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Austin approves bond package for roads, sidewalks, trails

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

On Tuesday, Austinites voted to move forward with Proposition 1, the $90 million transportation bond package, with 56 percent voting yes.


Proposition 1 will fund about 70 road, pedestrian, and bicycle projects and is considered a prelude to a much larger transportation bond package planned for 2012. The package features funds for area road, sidewalk, and bicycle improvements. Highlights include improvements to the “Y” at Oak Hill and a reconstruction of Third Street.


The most prominent, and controversial, item in the package is the $14.4 million boardwalk, an elevated extension of the hike-and bike trail on Lady Bird Lake from near South Congress Avenue to about a half mile east of Interstate 35 on the south bank, where the rocky shoreline would make a trail impossible. The boardwalk will complete the trail.


At the election-night watch party of the pro-Prop.1 group Get Austin Moving, the mood was jovial. As returns came in, the group’s treasurer, Ted Siff, told In Fact Daily that the significance of the bond package has a lot to do with timing. Because of the sagging economy, he said, construction work is cheaper now than it probably will be in two years, when the city could vote on another bond package.


“Prop. 1 will put more than 70 transportation projects on the fast track that otherwise would have taken at least two years to get started,” Siff said. “They will be cheaper to build than they would if we started them two years from now because of the state of the economy.


“This is just a first step. We have hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transportation problems to solve. We have a limited capacity to solve them now. But what capacity we have is worth authorizing today as opposed to some time in the indefinite future, when projects will cost more and the problems will be greater.”


Another attendee at last night’s party, William Abell, a member of the Parks and Recreation Board and the proprietor of a bicycle shop, could hardly contain his enthusiasm over the Prop.1 victory, calling it a “good step toward building a sustainable alternative transportation system.”


“We have to have alternative transportation for Austin’s quality of life,” he said. “Not everybody wants to drive a car a mile to the grocery store or a half-mile to get their kids to school. And if we don’t build the facilities that people feel safe and comfortable on, we’ll never create those alternatives.”


Those on the other side of the Prop. 1 debate were understandably disappointed by last night’s vote but saw their relatively decent showing as proof that their message – that the bond package won’t alleviate traffic congestion – resonated with Austin voters.


Dominic Chavez of the anti-Prop. 1 PAC Sensible Transportation Solutions for Austin told In Fact Daily, “This was David and Goliath from the get-go. We started with a small group of people when we started this campaign four weeks ago to shine a light of transparency on this package. For us to be (this close) is incredible. We built a coalition that reaches across this community.”


Chavez also stressed that his group is just getting started and that they will continue to be a part of the mobility discussion as Austin gets ready for a much larger transportation bond in 2012. “We’re really looking at this as a jumping-off point, not an ending point,” Chavez said. “We will continue to build a coalition and continue to focus on how Austin does business and how City Hall operates.”


At a pro-Prop.1 rally on Tuesday, Hill Country Conservancy Executive Director George Cofer told In Fact Daily that the 2012 bond will, in fact, be much bigger and much more comprehensive than Prop. 1. “The 2012 package will include rail. It’s a very expensive proposition. Prop. 1 is the beginning. In 2012 the economy will be stronger, and we’ll be coming forth with the roads, rail, and multi-modal stuff.”


But Chavez warned City Council that they need to learn from their mistakes on Prop. 1 if they want to get an even bigger bond package passed in 2012. “Hopefully this campaign will send a message to City Hall that the days of not being transparent with voters have got to come to an end,” he said. “It’s not enough to have a laundry list buried on their Web site somewhere. It needs to be in the ballot language what these projects are, to give people a real choice.”


It turns out Prop. 1 was one of the only local propositions that passed last night. Voters in Lake Travis and Westlake, for example, may have been reflecting the national anti-government mood by voting against all three parts of a $149.5 million bond election proposed by the Eanes Independent School District. Those bonds fell to defeat by an average margin of 20 percent.

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