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Council scales back Riley’s quarter-cent proposal

Friday, December 12, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members Thursday declined to solely commit $20.4 million derived from Capital Metro quarter-cent funds to projects along the Airport Boulevard corridor. Instead, they opted to commit $2 million for various short-term improvements in the region.

The $20.4 million in question is the last of $139.4 million raised as part of an agreement that allowed for the city to recover a portion of sales taxes collected by Capital Metro between 2001 and 2004. Riley’s original plan would have committed the money to a series of short-, medium- and long-term projects including pedestrian, turn-lane and intersection improvements.

Council Member Bill Spelman offered a different proposal, after Spelman, Council Member Laura Morrison and Council Member Kathie Tovo expressed concerns about dedicating the entire $20.4 million to Airport Boulevard. The revised item will allow for the short-term improvements, including signal changes and lane striping adjustments.

“I think the plan is a good one, and that the changes will be transformative to that corridor and to that area — and will benefit not just the immediately adjacent neighborhoods but also the community at large. But as the staff have pointed out, the Airport corridor is not the only one that is awaiting implementation, and the needs throughout the city are great,” Tovo said.

For her part, Morrison objected to committing any amount of funding solely to any project. She framed her concerns in terms of the incoming change in the city’s political system. “The bottom line is this $20 million was originally slated for rail, which is not necessarily a district issue — it was all put into one basket,” she said. “If we do this, we’re going down the road of suggesting that we’re going to divvy this money up between the districts, basically.”

Still, before conceding to Spelman’s pitch — given the likely vote — Council Member Chris Riley defended the idea with what he characterized as community-identified needs via the Airport Boulevard Corridor Study. “All too often, this sort of study just sits on the shelf. … We now have the rare opportunity to actually move forward and follow through on a commitment we make in the form of one of our corridor studies.”

City management had also expressed concern about using the full amount of the quarter-cent funds on just one project. Assistant City Manager Robert Goode summarized the issues in a Dec. 5 memo delivered to Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council.

Goode noted that the balance had been reserved for costs associated with the rail line that was proposed as part of the November transportation bond. With the failure of that proposition, Goode cited uncertainty over what might come next.

“Not knowing what the future plan will look like, not knowing what projects will become priorities resulting from that planning process, and not knowing what the new Council will set for Transportation Policy goals, dedicating all remaining quarter-cent funding to one project seems premature,” he wrote.

The measure passed 6-1. Morrison provided the ‘no’ vote.


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