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Riley plan for quarter-cent funds raises concerns

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 by Michael Kanin

City Council Member Chris Riley ran into concerns from both Austin city management and his Council colleagues over a plan to use $20.4 million in funds raised through a Capital Metro one-quarter-cent tax agreement for transportation infrastructure improvements along Airport Boulevard.

If approved, Riley’s proposal would use the money — the remainder of $139.4 million raised from FYs 2001-2004 — to address a potential list of short-, medium- and long-term improvements recommended in a February 2014 study of the Airport Boulevard Corridor. These range from additions of “pedestrian hybrid beacons” to intersection and turn-lane modifications.

Initial signs of opposition came Friday in the form of a memo from Assistant City Manager Robert Goode. In the memo, Goode suggested that there is not yet enough information on the plan to justify devoting all of the funds to a single project at this point. Goode continued on to frame staff objections in light of the recent defeat of the November rail bond initiative.

“I’m sure you have heard conversations and postelection analysis that seems to indicate that most citizens agree that Austin does indeed have a traffic/transportation mobility challenge, but that the plan proposed wasn’t the right solution in a majority of the voters’ minds,” Goode writes. “The traffic/transportation mobility challenge is not going away. The voters decided that the project and funding plan proposed was not the solution they preferred so that means that we have to go back to the drawing board … not only in regards to the initial high capacity transit project system. We need to work diligently to develop that ‘next plan.'”

Goode continues: “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.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo added to those thoughts at Tuesday’s work session. She asked Goode if there are other funding sources that Council members could use to improve the Airport Corridor. “That’s the tough question as we go forward with a newly elected Council,” Goode responded.

Council Member Laura Morrison suggested that the item might be better left to the next Council. “I guess I don’t see why there is any tie between the [form-based code efforts underway] and spending $20 million on Airport Boulevard,” she later added.

Riley suggested that the item would allow Council members to shore up needed infrastructure work ahead of the looming completion of a form-based code proposal for the area. “To be able to see work proceed on a corridor in a way that would allow us to actually get the development in place that is contemplated by the new code — that is the key,” Riley said in response to Morrison’s question.

Riley’s plan for the $20.4 million is set for a Thursday vote.

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