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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Thursday, October 1, 2015 by Jo Clifton
Council making plans for mobility money
With the budget behind them, Austin City Council members can turn their attention to other projects – chief among them, dividing up a little more than $21 million in money from the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The funds are known as the quarter-cent money because the transportation agency collects a quarter-cent in sales tax.
On June 18, the Council passed a resolution indicating its intention to use the quarter-cent money “equitably.” Since that resolution was passed, staff members of the Austin Transportation Department and the Public Works Department have been working on prioritizing projects that offer the biggest bang for the buck, according to Annick Beaudet, manager of the transportation system development division.
Beaudet said, “We’re looking for low-cost, high-impact projects and outcome-based projects.” The departments are particularly interested in working on small projects that, when pieced together, would make a big difference in people’s lives. They are emphasizing safe routes to school and easier access to bus stops, but that doesn’t mean that all of the projects have to fit into those categories, she said.
There are also several projects that reach across multiple Council districts. The one with the highest priority, according to the Transportation Department, is traffic cameras that would provide 100 percent coverage on critical arterials. That project is estimated to cost $558,000 but would benefit citizens in all 10 districts.
Council Member Ann Kitchen, who chairs the Council Mobility Committee, had been planning to have a staff presentation on proposed projects and a discussion among Council members about which projects would best serve their districts at next week’s committee meeting. However, several of her colleagues indicated that they needed more time to reach out to their constituents for input on which roads, sidewalks and bicycle facilities are most in need of improvements.
Kitchen said this week that she would be postponing that discussion until the committee’s November meeting to give her colleagues more time to hear from their constituents.
Council Member Greg Casar and his staff have been working hard, as demonstrated by Casar’s recent post on the City Council Message Board detailing their outreach efforts in District 4. First the District 4 staff did an online survey in both English and Spanish, asking residents to rank packages based on what would benefit their neighborhoods the most. Casar said Wednesday just before a community meeting on the matter that most of those surveyed were focused on high-impact projects that would be located in the neighborhoods around schools with the highest poverty level.
In order to learn what people wanted, Casar and his staff did block walking and phone banking throughout the district. He said they learned that in addition to the high-impact improvement projects, people wanted sidewalk extensions, pedestrian hybrid beacons and speed bumps in their neighborhoods.
According to Casar, the Transportation Department told him that they could spend $174 million in improvements in District 4. However, since the District 4 share of the quarter-cent money is only about $2.1 million, he and his staff had pared down the projects to around $5 million. Casar said he would ask those attending last night’s meeting to choose the projects they preferred within that budget.
Other Council members have heard from their constituents, and several have announced that they would be holding town hall meetings during October to nail down what people want.
Kitchen said she meets with some District 5 neighborhood leaders on a regular basis and would be having a town hall meeting on Oct. 10. She said she was looking at grouping projects within a quarter-mile of a school or a bus stop. For example, people in the South Lamar area near the Matt’s El Rancho restaurant have noted the need for a pedestrian crossing. There are similar needs on South First Street near Akins High School, she said, and there are “several issues around Cunningham Elementary School,” just off Manchaca Road.
Joe Petronis, an aide to District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman, told the Austin Monitor that their constituents are interested in an eastbound right-turn lane at Anderson Mill Road and U.S. 183.
District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool said, “I’ve been talking to my constituents about it, and there are some priorities around McCallum High School and Lamar Middle School … (as well as) a charter school north of 183.” In addition, she quoted Casar as saying, “North Lamar is like the autobahn,” so the two of them may work on something that will slow down that traffic.
An aide to Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said she will be hosting a community meeting at 3 p.m., Friday, in the staff bullpen to engage District 9 constituents in prioritizing.
David Chincanchan, an aide to District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria, told the Monitor, “I don’t think we have a final formulation. We’re in the middle of planning a town hall meeting in South Austin.” However, Renteria has already indicated that he would like to see a left-turn lane at the intersection of Oltorf Street and Montopolis Drive as well as a number of improvements on East Cesar Chavez. He said they also want to address a dangerous intersection in South Austin at Aberdeen Drive and Emerald Wood Drive.
Chincanchan echoed comments from Christopher Hutchins, an aide to District 1 Council Member Ora Houston. Hutchins posted a request on the City Council Message Board saying his boss would like the month of October to do more outreach. Chincanchan said they appreciated Kitchen’s decision to postpone the staff presentation and discussion at the Mobility Committee until November.
Beaudet concluded, “We’ve cued up a really big needs assessment” so that “when any other funds come our way, we have this at our fingertips. It’s been an education process as well, meeting with Council members talking about system-wide and district needs.”
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
CapMetro: Capital Metro provides bus and MetroRail (Red Line) service for the Austin region. It's governed by a seven-member board appointed by various governing entities, including City Council members. CapMetro is also governed by a President and CEO.
Public Works Department: This city department oversees major capital improvement projects; maintains the city's trails, roadways, and bridges; and promotes safe travel on city thoroughfares.
Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.