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Travis Commissioners approve $215 million November bond package

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 by Michael Kanin

On Tuesday, Travis County Commissioners approved a $215 million bond package for the November ballot. The list of more than 30 projects includes $13.76 million for work on Cameron Road, $12.4 million for work on Blake-Manor Road, and $20 million for land preservation along the Pedernales River Corridor.


The bulk of the list was approved in one motion. However, court members singled out three projects–improvements on Bee Creek Road and Taylor Lane, as well as an engineering study for work on Lohmans Ford Road–for individual approval. Bee Creek and Taylor Lane made the cut; Lohmans Ford did not.


All of the votes, including the larger approval, were unanimous.


Despite the harmony, some question remains about how the ballot will be constructed. Two of the questions are settled: One will be a broad measure that includes all of the infrastructure projects, the other will be a similarly written question that will ask voters for their approval of parks funding.


However, County Judge Sam Biscoe would like to separate the largest parks item—that $20 million for land preservation along the Pedernales River—into its own question. Approval of that item would set up a living estate for the current owners of that land. This raised concerns for Biscoe.


“The problem with a life estate is (that) for the duration of your life you exercise ownership over the acreage,” he said. “That would be fine except it’s after we pay $20 million for it.”


Biscoe added that he’d campaign against the entire parks section of the bond election if the Pedernales park land was included in it.


The rest of the court seemed more concerned with the message sent by Biscoe’s suggestion. “I think we could each pick our preferences on this list; individually…we may have other projects on this list that we may not be as supportive of as certain others,” said Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber.


“We have to take advantage of what we have, we have to take a look at what the future costs are. Maybe we won’t get another chance at this. We could lose it all together,” Huber added later.


The land would be the fourth parcel of acreage that the county has acquired in the vicinity of Hamilton Pool.


All told, the package represents something of a middle road. Earlier efforts had identified around $638 million in potential 2011 bond projects. A committee charged with narrowing that figure cut the list 20 just over $205 million in projects. The Travis County Planning and Budget Office had prepared for an election for as much as $400 million.


The Lohmans Ford engineering study failed after repeated court appearances from residents both in favor and against the idea. Travis’ County Executive for Transportation and Natural Resources Steve Manilla told In Fact Daily that he was in favor of the study. “I agree with the bond committee that a preliminary engineering analysis would have been probably a good first step,” he said.


Manilla noted that the project was still a part of the CAMPO 2035 plan, and that it hadn’t gone away. “Now it’s just a matter of timing,” he said.


He added that the study wouldn’t be back before the voters until the next bond election. The county routinely schedules such events every six of seven years.


The Taylor Road project will serve a still-undeveloped eastern section of the county. With it, Travis officials hope to get out ahead of the traffic that would come with such area developments as Whisper Valley.


The language and layout of the ballot are scheduled for final approval at next week’s regular court meeting. Election Day is November 8.

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