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Oak Hill “Y” improvement projects back on CAMPO’s radar

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

A new proposed expenditure on the Oak Hill Expressway likely signals the re-start of planning improvements for the intersection known as the “Y.”

 

CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board already has blessed some of the Texas Department of Transportation’s smaller-scale improvements in the area of US 290 and SH 71. Earlier this year, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) requested CAMPO add an expanded $16.7 million environmental study to the region’s rolling 3-year transportation plan.

 

That request has put the project back on the radar of groups like Fix 290, which was committed to a non-tolled alternative for the “Y” project. In emails exchanged this week and in a public hearing at CAMPO last night, a couple of speakers questioned what the spending signified and whether a new estimate of $468 million for a six-lane toll project was an accurate projection.

 

Activist Roger Baker was eager to hear answers to those questions from CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board. Answers were few, although District Engineer Carlos Lopez and Mario Espinoza, deputy director of the CTRMA, appeared to confirm that the new estimated cost was only a “best guess” going into the new environmental review process, where all alternatives would be considered.

 

“It’s an estimate of a six-lane toll project with two access lanes on each side,” Lopez said. “It’s out best guess at this time, and it gives us an idea of what the road might look like.”

 

Lopez confirmed the environmental review process would consider a variety of alternatives on the potential “Y” solution, effectively restarting the planning process. This comes after years of discussion and negotiation that appeared to be 4ified when the Federal Highway Administration pulled promised funding from the project during crucial negotiations.

 

Baker’s series of questions also underlined the fact that local and state dollars might go into an environmental study but all proceeds from the eventual toll project would go back to the CTRMA, to pay off the bonds issued for construction. Such a conclusion will only feed dissatisfaction among toll road opponents that the mix of funds constitutes being “double taxed.”

 

Local resident Becki Halpin, a long-time opponent of tolling the road, noted that the 37,000 cars-per-day attributed to the yet-to-be-approved West Park PUD were not being included in assessing the effectiveness of the free frontage roads. Lopez said that this, too, would be reviewed and weighed during the environmental review process.

 

Additional details, including a tally on indirect costs, will come back to the CAMPO board in July, when it votes on the three-year plan, referred to as the Transportation Improvement Plan, or TIP.

 

The board accepted Travis County’s long-delayed “dues” as a partner organization in CAMPO. The county has not paid dues for a number of years, and it appears the total the county will contribute to the operations of CAMPO is $8,200 per year.

 

It also heard a report from Commissioner Karen Huber on the process to give more direction and focus to the existing Technical Advisory Committee. Members, assisted by subcommittee of CAMPO board members, could land on suggesting direction such as a long-term work plan for the group but had trouble discussing composition of the committee and potential bylaws fixes. The composition and bylaws issue has been delayed until September.

 

“I am very much in favor of this recommendation,” Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said of developing a long-term work plan for the committee. “I think the (committee) can play a really viable role in keeping the policy board from devolving into a city-county split or a rural-county split by having a work plan that examines overarching issues.”

 

The board also discussed the possibility of moving CAMPO meetings from the Joe Thompson Conference Center to TxDOT’s district offices for a year. Executive Director Maureen McCoy said such a move would save enough money to hire part-time staff to compile minutes from the meetings, thus allowing staff members to return to their assigned planning duties.

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