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CAMPO ponders some 800 projects for 2040 Transportation Plan

Thursday, May 15, 2014 by Jenny Blair

A massive list of proposed transportation projects filled out a packed agenda at Monday night’s meeting of theCapital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board.


More than 800 proposed transportation projects for the region filled 36 pages of the meeting agenda. Each project, including actions like lane-widening and new sidewalks, was submitted by CAMPO’s jurisdictions and agencies beginning last August as part of the development of the CAMPO 2040 Regional Transportation Plan.


Interim CAMPO Director Joe Cantalupo said the huge list reflects CAMPO’s decision several years ago to allow local projects to be included, even those not destined for federal dollars. The plan is intended in part to help CAMPO distribute federal Surface Transportation Program-Metropolitan Mobility funds.


“There seems to be a misunderstanding that if you’re in the plan, you’re eligible necessarily for federal funds,” Cantalupo said of the many smaller-scale projects submitted to the list by local governments.


Instead, he said, the purpose of the list is to study the hypothetical effects of this massive group of projects on the transportation system. As part of the scenario planning process, CAMPO will use computer models to see what would happen if investments go into various combinations of mass transit, highways and arterial roadways.


They’ll develop two different scenarios – regional and sub-regional. A regional scenario deals with projects like freeways and express buses, and a sub-regional scenario with smaller ones like roads between city centers, local buses and frontage roads.


On May 1, after three months of refining the list, the Technical Advisory Committee voted via email 22 to 9, with two abstentions, to advise the CAMPO board to endorse it.


Endorsement, though, doesn’t mean giving any specific projects the go-ahead, a point Council Member Bill Spelman took pains to clarify before he voted.


“So all we’re doing is endorsing the collection of additional information upon which a subsequent decision can be made?” Spelman asked, after expressing concern that a yes vote would translate into approval of the proposed toll road State Highway 45 SW, also on the list. That proposal has met with strong opposition, mainly due to environmental concerns.


“What you’re endorsing is the idea that it should be modeled,” Cantalupo replied.


Council Member Craig Morgan of Round Rock wanted to know what similar MPOs’ lists look like.


One comparable list, Cantalupo replied, is San Antonio’s Alamo Area MPO; he said that its project list is much shorter at about 200 proposals. Until recently, the Alamo Area MPO served only Bexar county, Cantalupo said. By contrast, CAMPO serves six counties.


What also swells the list, Cantalupo told the board, is the fact that the plan serves too many different needs. This makes computer modeling harder, he said.


“When you allow the plan to be crowded with all these other projects that may or may not have an impact on regional transportation,” Cantalupo said, “you’re giving up your ability to test different scenarios.”


“We serve such a great area (that) we’re having growing pains,” CAMPO senior planner Lisa Weston told the Monitor. She explained that Travis County is required to use the CAMPO Plan for certain purposes, while other counties only need to use it for regionally significant projects.


Though every project on the Comprehensive Project List has some source of funding, not everything on it will necessarily come to pass.


CAMPO staff will remove some projects based on which ones are eligible for federal and other kinds of funding. This fall, board members will also have an opportunity to revise the list.


“You’ll have multiple cracks at it,” Cantalupo told the board.


Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole made a substitute motion to endorse the list minus certain projects, of which SH 45 SW was one. Austin Council Member Chris Riley seconded her motion, but it did not pass.


Endorsement of the comprehensive project list passed with 15 votes in favor. Cole and Riley voted against. A Riley aide said he felt there were too many unanswered questions on the scoring criteria and how they were weighted.

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