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CAMPO Transportation Policy Board talks funding and leadership

Friday, January 22, 2010 by Austin Monitor

County Judge Sam Biscoe spent his first meeting as chair of CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board in the way he’s likely to spend many more meetings: figuring out how to shuffle money around various projects to handle shifting funds.


The revenue picture for CAMPO 2035 continues to shift more funding from federal and state sources to local entities over the next 25 years, pushing the percentage of local participation required from 30 percent to 50 percent for local projects.


Wednesday night, as Executive Director Joe Cantalupo warned, the issue was figuring out which handful of mobility projects could be funded under Category 7. CAMPO generally gets $15 million in anticipated letting funds each year. That’s been cut to $4.2 million, which led to a recommendation to recalibrate the cost of the projects that were already approved and try prioritizing again.


It was messy business, but it wasn’t Sen. Kirk Watson who led the process. During a pre-meeting workshop, the CAMPO board reviewed new recommendations for the leadership and composition of the Transportation Policy Board: The Chair and vice chair will have two-year terms and serve in different counties in the region. The board agreed to add Bastrop and Caldwell counties. And then the group got stuck on whether legislators should or should not rotate off the board.


That last item will go back to a committee for further consideration.


A number of funding issues were on the table at the meeting, including the reshuffling of Category 7 funds. The Category 7 funds need to be reprioritized, said Cantalupo, due to a number of circumstances: a project pulled and paid for by stimulus funding, cost under-runs on one road, and lower letting caps.


In the end, road projects got funded over bike/ped projections: improvements to ramps in San Marcos on Interstate 35 at River Ridge, upgrades to Brushy Creek Road in Cedar Park with a better-than-average local match, and improvements to the sidewalks in Manor already tagged for stimulus funding.


A contingent from Cedar Park argued that the improvements are necessary, even as the Leander school district builds a football stadium up the road. Council Member Chris Riley, however, made an impassioned plea for improvements to the bike lanes on Loop 360 at Jollyville Road. That project, which was pushed to the top of the list for future funding but was not approved, was tentatively awarded approval in 2004 and would have cost about $824,000 in construction.


In other funding votes, Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt led a vote against using stimulus funding for a ramp to serve a toll road. Carlos Lopez explained that the expenditure was intended to provide greater access to the road. While projections for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority are ahead, revenue is still being used to pay down debt and maintenance, with no ability to add projects. That anti-ramp motion was defeated by a vote of 10-7, with Eckhardt joined by Council Members Bill Spelman, Chris Riley, and Sheryl Cole; Rep. Eddie Rodriguez; Sunset Valley Mayor Jeff Mills; and Commissioner Karen Huber. Biscoe did not vote on either funding motion.


And, in a positive update, Cantalupo reported that lower-than-expected construction bids on stimulus projects had left enough money to fully fund the Interstate 35 HERO roadside assistance program, as well as the majority of traffic signals requested by Austin. A funding disbursement after March 1 will also help complete a sidewalk project in Sunset Valley.

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