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Funding news for CAMPO projects remains grim

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

The news on the federal funding front for Central Texas transportation projects has been grim lately and that stretches to include the annual discretionary funding in the categories of metropolitan mobility projects under the Surface Transportation Program and the Job Access and Reverse Commute/New Freedoms program (JARC/New Freedom).


The metropolitan mobility dollars go to local mobility projects. The JARC/New Freedom dollars are intended to provide low-income individuals and welfare recipients with a way to get to and from employment opportunities. This is the closest that the regional agency has to “discretionary” funding to provide support for local projects.


This year’s federal funding ratio is 1-to-4, Interim Executive Director Maureen Daniel told the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board last night. For every $4 in requests, CAMPO has received only $1 in funding. The jurisdictions in the region submitted $122.9 million in proposed projects, including some of the region’s first JARC proposals. Only $35.5 million in funding is available.


The Texas Department of Transportation made the biggest requests for funding, with 14 projects totaling $46.8 million. That was followed by Travis County requesting $25.9 million for 5 projects, and the City of Round Rock requesting 10 projects for $11.7 million. The City of Austin requested only $4.9 million in funding for 4 projects.


The 60 requested projects fall into one of five categories: fixed route mobility; operations and safety; travel demand management and studies; bicycle and pedestrian; and JARC.


Choices on the projects will include both CAMPO deliberations and public input. One of the hearings will be at the CAMPO meeting on March 17. The Policy Board could vote on funding approval of STP-MM funds at the April 14 board meeting.


Example of projects under consideration include the restoration of the Highway Emergency Response Operations (HERO); a corridor traffic management system for Slaughter Lane near the Travis County-Hays County line; bike lanes and sidewalks on Frate Barker between Brodie Lane and Manchaca Road; and various dedicated left turn lanes at a number of major intersections in Round Rock.


Chair Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) still intends to use the decision tree developed by CAMPO members last year. Vice Chair Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long proposed some additional questions, most of them circled around a jurisdiction’s track record and its ability to hit the ground running when the time comes to execute the project.


“Is the project ready to go?” Long posed in a hypothetical question to her colleagues. “With limited funds, we don’t need to be providing funds someplace where we funded something a decade ago and nothing has happened.”


Long said her list of questions came from a brainstorming session with a number of other board members. Questions included whether the jurisdiction had received previous STP MM funding and how well that funding was executed. Other questions included any local participation in the project; whether right of way acquisition was completed; and whether the relocation of utilities had been addressed, where applicable.


Daniel said CAMPO also was making a claim on the money, looking for another $160,000 to complete emissions modeling. That will be important if the level of non-attainment changes in upcoming legislation, Daniel said.


In other news at the CAMPO meeting, the board took 45 minutes at the beginning of the meeting in closed session to discuss the process for hiring a new executive director. Watson said the posting on the job opening would not close until the end of this month. The board would like to offer a job sometime around the beginning of April.

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