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Council members float mobility bond alternatives

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Three members of City Council have floated two separate alternatives to Mayor Steve Adler’s $720 million mobility bond proposal.

On Monday, Council Member Ann Kitchen’s office posted on the Council Message Board a draft resolution for a significantly pared-down vision of Adler’s plan to fund projects on several of the city’s significant corridors and regional highways and also make large investments in so-called active transportation infrastructure such as sidewalks, bike lanes and urban trails.

Kitchen’s proposal would cost only $300 million, well within the city’s $500 million of bonding capacity that can be achieved without affecting tax rates. The mayor has said his plan will increase the average homeowner’s tax bill by $5 per month.

On Tuesday morning, Council Member Greg Casar and Council Member Leslie Pool offered a plan that equaled the mayor’s in terms of money but differed radically in terms of policy.

“I think the mayor and I share very similar visions about the corridors and investing in mode shifts to encourage more active transportation,” Casar told reporters at a press conference at City Hall. “But looking at his plan, I thought there were definitely some missed opportunities.”

The proposal he and Pool offered would divert $100 million from projects on regional highways such as Loop 360 and RM 620. That money would instead go toward the $220 million in local mobility efforts — including active transportation infrastructure — in the plan.

Casar and Pool also want to remove $80 million from the mayor’s proposed $500 million investment in corridor projects. That sum would specifically come out of the FM 969 corridor plan, which largely calls for expanding a lengthy section of that roadway outside of the city limits.

“Instead, we can dedicate that money to basic infrastructure that East Austinites, North-Central Austinites, and South Austinites expect, like basic bus shelters,” Casar said.

“This isn’t just about how many miles of concrete you can lay down,” Pool said. “It’s about ways to build strong communities and how you build strong communities. The way you provide spaces where people can meet and bond and build relationships.”

Speaking in support of the two Council members’ plan, Bike Austin Executive Director Mercedes Feris emphasized how it could lead to critical improvements to safety. “Let’s keep in mind that life has no price tag,” Feris said of the plan’s large cost. Calling it a “progressive plan,” she concluded, “Let’s move forward and make Austin great again.”

Missing from Casar and Pool’s proposal — and the mayor’s and Kitchen’s — is any mention of light rail investments. When asked about that, Casar told reporters, “I’m supportive of rail on Guadalupe and Lamar as soon as possible. … I like to bring proposals forward that have as much support from Council and as much momentum as possible. So I’ll be discussing it and continuing to look for support.”

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