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Transportation Director talks about bond projects that didn’t make cut

Friday, June 18, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Five of the top 10 projects—and 11 of the top 25—that scored highest in the City of Austin’s ranking of needed mobility projects as identified by officials and the general public would not be funded by a proposed $85 million bond election. Still, according to Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar, that gap is a “validation of the process.”


“What’s good is that we have responded to all of the…high priority projects in some way or the other,” he said. He added that his department wanted to “respond to as many of the (top) projects as possible,” even if those needed to be addressed via another funding method.


In an interview conducted at an open house designed to display “candidate projects” for the much-debated, possible 2010 transportation bond election, Spillar gave In Fact Daily his take on what’s been left out.


“Some of the projects need to be incorporated in projects that are getting funding…Some projects need to be incorporated in bigger design efforts,” Spillar said. Here, he cited I-35 improvements.


“We got a couple of recommendations on intersection improvements but it’s not cost-effective and it’s not really wise, I don’t think, to obligate funds for a specific intersection or interchange improvement without knowing what you’re doing with the rest of the corridor,” he said.


“It’s a planning effort,” Spillar continued. “We really need to do an in-depth, involved planning effort for (I-35 for) about $2 million. That’s a big effort because it’s a big important regional facility.”


Spillar noted that the city’s bond advisors “tell us that we really should not bond for planning projects.” For him, that meant that even though I-35 corridor improvements came in third on the city’s list for 2010 bonding, it wouldn’t make a good candidate for that initiative.


He added that looking for alternative sources of funding for projects that had been listed as high-priority for the potential 2010 bond is “not stepping away from…responsibility.”


“Just because something’s not recommended for funding here doesn’t mean we’re walking away from it. We’ve got to find a different way to do it, and we’re going to do it,” he said.


Of the projects that would be included in this November’s bond election, a $2 million project that would begin rapid bus transit along Lavaca and Guadalupe streets scored highest on a list of possible mobility options that could be included in an $85 million transportation bond election. The $8 million dollar reconstruction of 3rd Street and the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, the $17 million construction of a “boardwalk trail” along Lady Bird Lake, and $19.5 million for area roadway reconstruction all also made the cut (See In Fact Daily, June 15, 2010). 


Spillar also told In Fact Daily that repairs on the until-recently crippled Opticom system that helps control traffic when emergency vehicles need to get through had been completed in late May. “We worked with the fire department to review their entire original system. We asked…various fire professionals to identify the most critical intersections in town.” There have been some rumblings from those professionals behind the scenes about the system not working properly.


According to Spillar, the city redeployed some Opticom devices that were no longer at key points and also purchased $49,000 worth of new equipment. “We’re now back up to what both the fire department and the transportation department believe is fully operational.”


In the future, Spillar said that the city may move to a GPS-based system that would replace what’s currently in use.

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