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Commissioners approve scaled-down version of COTA road plan

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 by Mark Richardson

On her second try, Travis County Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez got her fellow commissioners to approve a fast-tracked roadway plan for her precinct, though it was only a scaled-down version of her original plan. The county will pay for the plan by issuing a Certificate of Obligation


Gómez, along with Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and County Judge Sam Biscoe, voted for the plan to build a three-lane extension of Kellam Lane from Pearce Lane to SH 71, with a sidewalk and a bicycle lane added on. The project would extend Kellam Lane from SH 71 to the entrance to the Circuit of the Americas racetrack facility. However, her motion included working with the city of Austin, the state and others to form a regional road plan for the area and to look for ways to share the cost.


“We need to move forward on this,” Gómez said. “I don’t see any problem working with the resolution that (Pct. 2) Commissioner Todd has written up. However, I think that can come after we have taken care of this issue.”


Commissioner Bruce Todd had written up a resolution to be included in Gómez’s motion, but at the last minute, he appeared to not agree with what she was proposing. Todd offered up a competing motion to form a stakeholders group to develop a regional plan for the area before any road work was done, and report back to Commissioners Court in 60 days. The motion failed. Todd and Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis abstained from the final vote.


The cost of the Kellam Road extension was estimated to cost about $13 million without the sidewalks and bike lane. County officials say a final cost for the project won’t be determined until CTRMA develops the road plan more fully.


The plan put forward by Gómez was part of a set of recommendations put forward by the county’s Transportation and Natural Resources Department after consultations during the last week. It will build two through lanes and a continuous center left turn lane with a bike lane and sidewalk on one side to tie into the same cross section of Kellam Road at Pearce Lane. The remaining two through lanes for the ultimate five lane cross section would be built by the developers of adjacent property.


Other parts of the TNR’s recommendations included a resolution for an Interlocal Agreement with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority for planning, design, engineering, and construction of the road, the use of Certificates of Obligation (debt instruments) to fund the project,  and designated Commissioners Gómez and Todd as leads on cost-sharing discussions with the City of Austin.


The TNR did not recommend the funding of an expansion of Elroy Road to four lanes from McAngus to Kellam. They recommended that road project be included in a regional roadway plan to be developed later.


While commissioners seemed, for the most part, to be on the same page about the road project, it still came in for some blistering criticism. For the second week in a row, former Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, who claimed despite all the talk about the road plan bringing economic development to the area, it was really all about benefitting the COTA. 


“The timing of this proposal, the financing not going to the voters, and the suggestion that CTRMA build it rather than Transportation and Natural Resources indicates that this project is before this body today only because of Formula One,” she said. “That is the only inference that can be drawn from the timing, the financing proposal and the CTRMA rather than our own staff handling this.” Eckhardt stepped down from the court this summer to run for County Judge.


Gómez bristled at the criticism, saying Eckhardt’s comments ignored the people who live in that neighborhood who have had to deal with substandard roads and infrastructure for decades.


Despite their last-minute tiff on the dais, Gómez and Todd are scheduled to continue working towards developing a regional plan for the area’s roads, including working with the Austin and State of Texas officials to include them in funding future parts of the plan. Some of those items may be on next week’s Commission agenda.

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