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Foes gather to speak out against Transportation Bond initiative

Friday, October 22, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Opponents of the proposed $90 million transportation bond package rallied for the media on Thursday at an empty parking lot on South Lamar Boulevard. There, they repeated arguments that the initiative for the bonds is too costly and doesn’t offer enough focus on immediate problems such as traffic congestion.


Organizers of the event said that their group consisted of representatives from across the Austin political and geographic spectrum. Indeed, the roughly 25 individuals gathered there included a selection of Republican-affiliated groups and personalities, a several East Austin activists, and at least one long-time Democrat.


Opponents include Susan Harris, whose Austinites for Downtown Mobility worked against the downtown bicycle boulevard; LULAC District 12 Director Marcelo Tafoya, former Council Member Max Nofziger, Jim Skaggs of the Coalition on Sustainable Transportation, and Ed Wendler of Sensible Transportation Solutions for Austin.


The treasurer of that group, Dominic Chavez, served as something of an emcee for the event. He criticized the bond package for doing “very little to address traffic congestion in Austin.”


“In fact,” he said, “it represents yet another mistake, and another failure to act on behalf of the city. Prop 1 is out of step with well-known transportation needs and out of touch with the community’s priorities.”


Veteran East Austin activist and El Concilio member Paul Hernandez was also deeply critical of the bonds. “We are outraged by the audacity of this city council and this city government in taking amenities and calling them priorities,” he said. “We have further and bigger needs than what this Council is proposing on this $90 million bond.”


Though she didn’t speak, former Mayor Carole Keeton Strayhorn was present and had a hand in organizing the event.


Bicycle Sport Shop owner and local activist Hill Abell was also in attendance. After the event, he told In Fact Daily that he was there to observe things. “I’m a proponent of Prop. 1 and I wanted to see what the opponents had to say today because they’re telling some untruths,” he said.


Abell said that his group, the political action committee Get Austin Moving, wants to create a sustainable transportation system. “Yeah, a lot of people are not riding bikes today but we have not built the facilities (yet).”


He pointed to the safety provided by a bike lane that runs down Lamar Boulevard. He then turned to its cost. “Bike lanes are cheap,” he said. “You can’t build a road,” for the same amount. “I believe this project cost the city $275,000 as they were repaving the road.”


Abell added that the city would use that method as it built new bike lanes.


Celia Israel, who chairs the advocacy committee for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce told In Fact Daily that her group also supported the bonds. “The Hispanic Chamber is in support of the bond package,” she said. “There were too many good things in there for us to not support it.”


Lobbyist Paul Saldana of Brisa Communications echoed Abell and Israel. “(This) should be a call for everybody to get engaged and go vote—for the bonds,” he said.


The transportation bond is listed as Proposition 1 on this year’s ballot. If approved, it would raise funds for a host of local projects, including the completion of a bike boardwalk on Lady Bird Lake, the study of a handful of key transportation corridors, and a number of sidewalk projects.


Initial opposition to the ballot question was light, with only the Real Estate Council of Austin and the homebuilders coming out against the idea. In the past week, however, some steam has picked up with former Texas Monthly publisher and longtime community activist Mike Levy’s financing of a group called Sustainable Transportation Solutions for Austin. Levy had been an early opponent of the 2010 bonds.


Before the meeting, Chavez told In Fact Daily that the coalition’s main focus was “really to shine a light.”


“We didn’t feel that this proposition was very transparent,” he continued, “and so we want people to understand what’s in it—and, most importantly, to challenge the city…and some of their rhetoric. When they say 57 percent of this bond package is to improve mobility on roads, they don’t tell you that $20 million of that is road reconstruction….that’s analogous to me fixing a leaky roof on my house and turning to my wife and saying, hey…I remodeled.”

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