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Regional bicycle, pedestrian projects get funding

Monday, October 19, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

As Austin and Central Texas grow and become more congested, city and regional leaders are looking at bicycle and pedestrian projects as ways to cut down on traffic. On Oct. 12, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board took a step in that direction by approving federal funding for almost a dozen such projects in the region.

The board unanimously approved the measure, doling out $10.3 million in funding for 11 projects spread over the next three years across Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, Elgin, Lago Vista, Hutto and Williamson County. As part of the federal government’s Transportation Alternatives Program, each project requires a 20 percent match from its local jurisdiction.

The only project approved in Austin for this fiscal year is construction on an 18-station expansion of the city’s bicycle-share program, known as B-Cycle. The program consists of bicycle-share stations located throughout the central city, allowing pedestrians to rent bicycles for varying fees and return them to other stations.

The expansion will receive $908,500 in federal money and a $241,500 local match. In the online survey that the planning organization released before making funding recommendations, the project received 103 votes in support and 43 in opposition. “Bike share continues to be a critical link in the local and regional transportation systems,” wrote one respondent.

In Fiscal Year 2016-17, Austin will receive funding for construction of improvements to the Upper Boggy Creek Trail, beginning south of 12th Street and ending near the MLK Jr. Station of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Red Line. That project – $1,281,524 in federal funds and a $361,878 match – received strong support in the survey, with 101 votes in favor and 36 against.

“I live in the McKinley Heights neighborhood of East Austin, and am really excited about the Boggy Creek bridge that will connect my neighborhood to the MLK rail station,” wrote one respondent. “This project will make a big difference for myself and for the neighborhood.”

That year, the city will also receive funding to construct, plan and design various pedestrian safety improvements, including 15 pedestrian hybrid beacons and 18 accessible pedestrian signals. That project – $1,983,750 in federal funds with a $495,938 local match – received the most support in the online survey, with 144 votes in favor and 20 against.

“There is a huge demand for pedestrian hybrid beacons throughout Austin,” wrote one respondent. Pedestrian hybrid beacons are special signals that pedestrians can activate with a button to stop traffic and safely cross a street.

Funding to construct, plan and design bicycle and safety improvements on Burnet Road at Koenig Lane, including bicycle lanes and “streetscape improvements,” also garnered substantial support, but did not receive funding. That project – $1,379,816 in federal funds with a $344,954 local match – came in second place with 127 votes in favor and 31 against.

“Burnet has so much potential for a multimodal corridor. It just needs some love,” wrote one respondent in favor of the project.

“I oppose any project that encourages bicycles to go on arterials when there are reasonable alternatives. There are reasonable alternatives to Burnet Road, for example, at least south of (US) 183,” wrote another respondent against the project. “It is foolish to encourage bicycles to go on arterials. That is just begging for bicycle/motorized vehicle collisions.”

Other projects to receive funding for construction this year are the 2014 sidewalk gap program in Round Rock, sidewalks and a shared use path on Bagdad Road in Williamson County and sidewalks in southwest downtown Round Rock.

Projects to receive funding for construction, planning and design in Fiscal Year 2016-17 include the Elgin Connections sidewalk project in Elgin and additional sidewalks in Hutto. The Lago Vista Middle School Safe Routes to School program in Lago Vista will receive funding for construction only in that year.

In Fiscal Year 2017-2018, Williamson County will receive funding for construction on the Brushy Creek Trail, and Cedar Park will receive funding for construction of Brushy Creek Trail connections.

Ashby Johnson, executive director for the planning organization, said that a proposal to fund construction, planning and design for a shared-use path on FM 973 and sidewalks on Elroy Road in Travis County was tied with the Elgin Connections project, based on the evaluation criteria used to rank the projects, and didn’t make the final cut.

At the planning organization’s Technical Advisory Committee meeting in September, Johnson said, representatives from Travis County “stepped back” on their request in order to allow the Elgin project to move forward. In order to make up for that, Johnson said he would try to prioritize the project for funding in Fiscal Year 2018-2019, if possible.

“I really appreciate that offer,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt responded in agreement.

“That shows what a true regional thought process we have here amongst our organization,” said board Chair Will Conley.

The planning organization received 26 applications for project funding in Travis, Williamson, Hays and Bastrop counties that totaled $18.4 million.

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