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Split CAMPO board increases funds for Hays, Williamson projects

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board fractured at last night’s meeting, with Hays and Williamson counties winning the fight to distribute federal metropolitan mobility funds by population rather than project.

 

The vote to disburse the metropolitan mobility funds in the three-year Transportation Improvement Plan, or TIP, was a rather laborious one, even after a Halloween Day work session. Two commissioners – Sarah Eckhardt of Travis and Cynthia Long of Williamson – faced off with differing proposals on how to distribute the bulk of local funding.

 

The policy board landed on the easy decisions first to disburse portions of the available $62 million: an additional $1.5 million to CAMPO, another $960,000 to Bastrop County; and $16 million to the top-ranked regional projects. After some discussion, the group also landed on $8 million to fund the Lone Star Rail Project’s environmental study to shift regional freight rail off the Union Pacific line through Hays-Travis-Williamson counties and onto a new alternate route.

 

The real challenge came with how much latitude the board wanted to offer counties when it came to the balance for the remaining funds, about $36.4 million. Long proposed $1 million to each county and then a geographic disbursement based on the population of the five-county region.

 

Long and Hays County Commissioner Will Conley argued that the regional body had picked projects that they themselves would never have supported. Most, in fact, were limited to one county and were not regional in nature.

 

Conley said he could hardly go back to his constituents and explain a nice hike-and-bike trail rather than fixing a deadly stretch of RR 967. Long said she didn’t fault the CTRMA for suggesting a bike path on a toll way, but it was hardly the level of importance of a safety project in Cedar Park with a bike-pedestrian component.

 

Eckhardt proposed regional projects with a score of 60 or better be funded, with the remaining $14 million being geographically disbursed. Bastrop Commissioner Clara Beckett ultimately offered a friendly amendment that shifted even more money to high-scoring population center projects, leaving no room for any funds to be disbursed geographically by population.

 

At the bottom line, Eckhardt’s plan favored Travis County, which submitted a high number of proposals. Long’s plan put more into the coffers of Williamson County than Eckhardt’s plan. Eckhardt, hearing the complaints from Williamson County officials, said if all money was intended to be for locally determined projects, then each county should form its own planning organization.

 

“STP MM money is available because we regionally plan,” Eckhardt said. “The fact is, most of the counties, far and away, would not be eligible for STP MM money, but for their involvement in this organization.”

 

At the vote, which ended up being a 10-8 split, Long’s proposal won. Beckett, in fact, flipped to support the coalition that was primarily the outlying counties. Asked why she had shifted her vote after her friendly amendment, Beckett said she had only proposed it if it was the will of the majority of the body. She also noted her discontent with the lack of STP MM funding Williamson County received. Eckhardt argued Williamson County received substantial funding under other funding categories, such as Proposition 12 bonds.

 

As a matter of compromise, Chair Sam Biscoe asked the counties to take the money approved during last night’s vote and return with a list of projects for consideration. That will happen at the board meeting on Dec. 12.

 

In a separate motion, the board agreed to scrape project savings to pay for the Caldwell County’s long-term transportation plan, up to $5 million. Caldwell County, new the CAMPO, did not have time to create a project list for this round of funding.

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