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With new money, CAMPO reopens call for road projects

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board has reopened a call for project proposals in light of the state’s decision to issue another $3 billion in road bonds.


That’s a significant total, but the Austin region’s share of that pot of money will be only $170 million. CAMPO Executive Director Maureen McCoy, already faced with a call for projects, decided to add a second phase for the board’s consideration. Her choice was approved at Monday night’s Transportation Policy Board meeting.


So the process will go something like this: Current project submissions, which encompass both Proposition 12 and federal metropolitan mobility funds, were submitted in June and are in the process of being scored. The Transportation Policy Board will allow jurisdictions to pull their project proposals from that first phase and re-submit them, if they so choose, in the second phase. That second phase of project proposals, due in August, would be limited to Proposition 12 bonds.


Needless to say, the moving parts did amount in some confusion among policy board members. Metropolitan mobility projects, known as STP MM, typically require a local match and are picked by the CAMPO board. Proposition 12 projects, on the other hand, are fully funded by the state and distributed by the Texas Transportation Commission, based upon recommendations from local Texas Department of Transportation districts, including Austin.


CAMPO Chair Sam Biscoe, somewhat confused by the presentation, asked for a one-pager to reinforce when proposals were due, which would have public hearings and a deadline for awards to the various jurisdictions. McCoy concurred.


“It’s been a fluid process, not only from us to the (TxDOT) district, but from the district to (TxDOT) headquarters,” McCoy admitted. “We’re doing our level best to get you as much information and to be as accurate as we can be.”


According to McCoy’s presentation, $170 million will be awarded to the Austin district. Of that total, $91 million will go to the Texas Department of Transportation for rehabilitation, safety and additional capacity; another $48 million will be controlled by CAMPO for mobility improvements; and $31 million will go to roads in the region deemed most congested by the Texas Transportation Institute.


Just to confuse the issue a bit more, CAMPO will have input on TxDOT’s $91 million, but so will the Capital Area Council of Governments and Gillespie County, which is not encompassed in either CAPCOG or CAMPO, said District Engineer Carlos Lopez.


Local jurisdictions might consider the second round of consideration a better fit than the first round, but McCoy said no jurisdiction would know that exactly. CAMPO will not release preliminary scores before the second round is due.


According to a preliminary timetable released by McCoy and approved by the board, project proposals would be due in August and scored in September, with a potential public hearing in September or October. Suggested projects for the $91 million would be transmitted to TxDOT in September. Final decisions on awards, controlled by CAMPO, would be forward to TxDOT in October.


In other business at last night’s Transportation Policy Board, the board agreed to add US 290 West to the three-year transportation improvement program with no opposition. Members clarified the process for the project was, in essence, starting over with this expanded environmental review, with Travis County representative Jeff Mills noting that the current plan in the TIP will not be displaced without a vote of the board. This new environmental review is expected to take four years.


McCoy also said she would be proposing an additional four staff members, plus interns, to complete CAMPO’s work. The three-year cost, which would be approved at the time the Unified Planning Work Program in October, would be $2.8 million. Costs would be covered by a combination of local and federal funds.


CAMPO also will negotiate a contract to update the region’s demographic allocation tool, which was developed in 2007. The updated model will incorporate new household and median income information and will be negotiated with a private vendor at a cost up to $115,000. The first choice for the vendor was Atkins North America, with back-up proposals from Wilbur Smith Associates and URS.

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