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CAMPO 2035 plan approved after discussion of priorities, funding

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board approved the CAMPO 2035 plan last night on a vote of 17-2 in favor of the final plan. State Highway 45 SW, expected to generate fireworks, played less of a role than might have been expected in the final outcome.


Early on, the negotiations appeared headed to delay. The Texas Department of Transportation had submitted additional modifications to its list of 10 projects, moving SH 45 SW from FM 1626 to MoPac

up by five years and shifting other projects back in time, including the two projects that comprised the “Y” at Oak Hill.


These changes were too far afield from the original draft plan, Commissioner Karen Huber said. It was not even closer to what the public had seen. Dates for letting and completion of projects were significantly different.


“Shouldn’t we, at least, keep these dates?” Huber said. “I think we’ve misrepresented what we presented during our draft comments.”


Executive Director Joe Cantalupo noted the dates were no more than a current estimate of when the lengthy process of approval, including environmental review, would be completed. To actually say the projects were ahead or behind schedule would mean pulling them into the three-year transportation improvement plan, otherwise known as the TIP.


Beyond that, CAMPO 2035 was due to state and federal authorities on June 6. To pull out projects for additional review would be a three- to four-month process, which could provide significant delays on the preparation process of projects, Cantalupo said.


The eventual compromise was to pull the three projects in question out of the list, given the new adjusted TxDOT cost tallies and the draft plan’s completion dates: SH 45 SW, a four-lane tollway with possible frontage roads, would be $93 million and completed in 2022.


Completion of US 290 West at the “Y” in Oak Hill, from Circle Drive to Joe Tanner Lane, is scheduled for 2019 and cost the region $535.5 million, which is significantly higher than original estimates.


And improvements to SH 71, from Silvermine to US 290 West, would be completed in 2022, at a cost of $229.1 million. That price tag is far higher than the $133 million originally projected for the project.


The group had other skirmishes. Republican members of the committee weren’t wild about an amendment Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt added to consider carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the selection and construction of projects – but even that wasn’t a close vote, 13-6.


“The science is far from settled on this topic,” Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long suggested. “Look at Climategate. Scientists, on a daily basis, are bailing out of any knowledge or accreditation for IPCC.”


Council Member Chris Riley also added some language clarifying the importance of bike facilities, culled from recent federal legislation. Those changes passed the board by a unanimous vote.


At the final vote, Huber said she could not support a plan that seemed more of an amalgam of local options rather than a true regional vision. The plan did not appear to develop the concept of “centers,” or nodes of activity, sufficiently, nor did it resolve the problems of congestion on Interstate 35. It also did not provide a comprehensive approach to SH 45 SW project, which, as it stood, would simply dump commuters on other overcrowded roadways.


“We have real priority problems in this plan,” Huber said. “I cannot support this plan. It’s the same old, same old with CAMPO, and we have rushed in at the last minute with amendments, without good information.”


Long, vice chair of the board, agreed that no one got everything he or she wanted but the plan was a balance of various interest groups. Sunset Valley Mayor Jeff Mills said no plan was significant unless it addressed Interstate 35, with average speeds during morning and evening rush hours of between 6 and 13 miles per hour.


“To not address I-35 in this plan is something that I cannot support,” Mills said.


Chair Sam Biscoe noted work, including prioritizing projects within the plan, had yet to be done, and he intended to move forward with discussion of other projects, including Interstate 35. Biscoe intends to appoint a committee with a six-month timeline to discuss how to sort road projects.

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