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Cole gets ‘baptism by fire’ at CAMPO toll road meeting

Thursday, April 29, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Council Member Sheryl Cole’s first leadership role on the CAMPO board was to guide a subcommittee to a resolution on a somewhat controversial toll road policy.

 

As Cole admitted to her fellow committee members Monday night in Cedar Park, she’s not one of the more seasoned members of the board nor the one most versed in toll road history or minutiae, but when Cole saw the board splintering over issues along suburban-urban lines, she stepped in to do her part.

 

And it is quite a part when you have a room full of elected officials and advising lawyers. Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, as she admitted, was the toughest critic of the policy, but she was certainly matched during the evening on debating the finer points of what was called “TR-4,” especially by Cedar Park Mayor Bob Lemon and Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long.

 

So, the final three-part resolution as agreed upon by committee members and advised by Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein, along with bond counsel Glenn Opel and general counsel Brian Cassidy was this: rules for toll roads in system financing; rules for toll roads beyond system financing; and rules for roads that might eventually be added by the CTRMA for financing.

 

The resolution sought to clarify several points, including that system financing was not the enemy, nor was Eckhardt particularly opposed to the CTRMA determining it needed to use system financing to leverage the financing package on a project. Instead, Eckhardt was more focused on how roads, once they had met their obligations, might use additional revenue.

 

Eckhardt was especially adamant that CAMPO not usurp the role of CTRMA. Those roads approved for system financing – minus something like SH 45 SW that might be considered separately due to controversy – were within CTRMA’s control.

 

CTRMA had few problems with language Cole offered for uses of revenue once toll road obligations were met. These guidelines for revenue use included improvement of alternative non-tolled routes; further implementation of non-tolled access to tolled lanes; mitigation of environmental degradation as a result of the facility; and other public transportation or air quality benefits within the corridor. 

 

The definition of a corridor was one the subcommittee labored to define. According to a definition set out in prior documentation by CAMPO staff, these corridors would be in proximity to the mid-line of the tolled lane or within zip codes adjacent to the tolled road. The intention was to make sure communities that used the road also benefited from the dollars they paid to ride the toll road. Terminology in this section was “may,” in order to give some options, but directed CAMPO preference.

 

Equity was a key term during the original passage of the toll road resolution two years ago. The intention, Eckhardt said, was that those who put their money into toll roads would be the first to reap any eventual financial benefits.

 

The resolution also considered how future facilities outside those already approved for tolling might be considered as a tolled option:  a specific statement of purpose by CAMPO with input from the toll operator; CAMPO, in conjunction with the toll operator, also has scheduled two region-wide meetings; and two-thirds of the board approved the creation of the toll road.

 

Additional language, that involved other resolutions and the ability of CAMPO to deal with CTRMA debt directly, was struck from the resolution.

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