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Williamson County upends park-and-ride plans

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

The Williamson County Commissioners Court last week refused to go along with an ambitious plan aimed at planting eight new park-and-rides along Central Texas toll roads.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority cooked up the proposal last month in partnership with the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. CTRMA staff had hoped that Travis County, Williamson County and the city of Austin would help pay for the project’s $72.3 million price tag by deferring their respective shares of federal Qualified Environmental Conservation bonds.

Last Tuesday, CTRMA Chief Financial Officer Bill Chapman found that commissioners in Williamson County were far from being on board with the plan.

“I have a fundamental problem with the CTRMA spending any money on park-and-rides,” Commissioner Cynthia Long said. “I think this is just way off from my perspective of where the focus ought to be. And I think Cap Metro clearly has the ability to build these things.”

Long’s colleague, Commissioner Lisa Birkman, was no less emphatic in her opposition. She pointed out that only one of the proposed park-and-rides is in Williamson County. According to a map provided by the CTRMA, that facility would be located inside Austin city limits on FM 620, west of U.S. Highway 183.

Having established that fact, Birkman added, “And most of the toll revenue comes from Williamson County. And I’ve already heard over the years, ‘Why isn’t more toll revenue coming back to Williamson County?’”

Long echoed that point, suggesting that she would be fine with turning over to the CTRMA Williamson County’s allocation of QEC bonds – which adds up to $3.8 million – if the money were spent on more toll facilities.

County Judge Dan Gattis explained that he himself had reservations about the proposal, but noted that he could not think of any other potential projects the county could undertake that would otherwise qualify for the use of the bonds under the guidelines set by the federal Department of Energy. Commissioner Larry Madsen also expressed a willingness to let the CTRMA use the bonds.

However, given the stringent dissent offered by both Long and Birkman and the absence of Commissioner Valerie Covey, Gattis avoided a vote on the item by deferring action until a later date. As he did so, he noted that the Texas Bond Review Board, the agency that administers the bonds, could be unpredictable.

“There is the possibility that the state could pull our money back, even without our vote. So that could happen. If it happens, it happens,” said Gattis.

A CTRMA spokesperson could not be reached for comment on Monday afternoon.

The Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday is set to consider whether to transfer its $2.6 million share of QEC bonds to the CTRMA. However, Commissioner Brigid Shea told the Austin Monitor that she will ask for that vote to be delayed.

Photo by the TAS Partnership Ltd. made available through a Creative Commons license.

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