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Park-and-ride plan stalls anew at Travis County

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

A day after a regional park-and-ride plan took a big step forward, it once again got tripped up at the Travis County Commissioners Court.

The surprise decision to again postpone a vote on a potential funding source for the proposed park-and-ride locations came after a lengthy discussion Tuesday and earned new Commissioner Jeff Travillion, who motioned for the delay, sharp words from County Judge Sarah Eckhardt.

“We will bring this back on the 24th, and there will be no additional postponements. There will be action one way or the other on the 24th,” she said before adding with exasperation, “A full month after this item was originally brought (forward).”

Just the night before, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board approved an agreement with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority that spells out each agency’s role in the partnership to study, fund and build park-and-rides across the region.

The CAMPO vote was no small victory after both the Williamson County Commissioners Court and the Travis County Commissioners Court in December balked at the CTRMA’s proposed financing scheme for eight proposed park-and-rides. At their respective meetings, each court postponed action on the proposal, leaving doubts about its future.

On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court became the first to resume consideration of the plan, which would have each county, along with the city of Austin, sign over to the CTRMA each body’s share of federal Qualified Energy Conservation bonds. In Travis’ case, the decision would cost the county the chance to borrow $2.6 million for narrowly defined projects.

Once again, Jessica Rio, the head of the county’s Planning and Budget Office, told the court that the county has never identified any needed programs that the QEC bonds could be used on since the program was first created in 2008. After Rio’s brief refresher on the bonds, Capital Metro Long Range Planning Director Javier Arguello and Short Range Planning Director Roberto Gonzalez approached the dais to provide their testimony.

Arguello explained that Capital Metro and the CTRMA have been working together on a park-and-ride strategy for more than a year now. He said that express commuter buses enjoy the highest customer satisfaction rating among the transit agency’s services.

“And for me, this is big question mark, because unfortunately, our express service is not so express. We get stuck in traffic like everybody else,” Arguello said. He speculated that gaining access to the CTRMA’s proposed and existing managed lanes on roads such as MoPac Expressway could only boost the customer experience on the commuter lines.

Despite Arguello’s sunny outlook, Commissioner Brigid Shea remained skeptical of the details of the plan. Just as she did in December and again at Monday night’s CAMPO meeting, Shea raised familiar questions about the CTRMA’s proposed locations of the park-and-rides, including three that are bunched together on South MoPac over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

Gonzalez told Shea that the sites have simply been identified for further evaluation, an answer that didn’t satisfy the Precinct 2 commissioner, who also questioned why few park-and-ride sites have been proposed on North MoPac or east of Interstate 35, where she said “there’s such a huge need for transit.”

The Capital Metro staffers explained that the agency is pursuing park-and-ride options in those two areas through other means and partnerships, including transit plans assembled by cities outside of the agency’s service area.

Travillion grabbed that point and suggested that the planners put together a more comprehensive asset map, because, he said, everything he sees indicates that communities in the east are being left out.

“When I talk to the neighborhood associations, they tell me it takes four hours to get to the doctor on the bus. It’s not acceptable,” Travillion said. “I’d like to see the whole picture and in context.”

After further discussion, Travillion remained unsatisfied and motioned to postpone action. He was seconded by Shea.

“I think it is more important that we do it right than do it quickly,” Travillion explained.

Eckhardt expressed frustration at the notion of delaying action on the item for the second time in three weeks, but allowed the vote to go through. With Commissioner Margaret Gómez’s support and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty joining Eckhardt in her opposition, the motion passed, 3-2.

Afterward, Eckhardt said the item will come back in two weeks and that, in the meantime, the commissioners seeking the postponement will have to find the answers to their questions on their own.

When Travillion apologetically pointed out that he hadn’t had much time to learn about this issue since taking his place on the dais last Tuesday, Eckhardt shot back, “I’m sorry, Mr. Travillion, you were able to watch Commissioners Court for the last three months prior to taking office.”

Travillion then pledged, “I will be aggressive about getting the issues that I want addressed, addressed.”

Photo by radcliffe decanay made available through a Creative Commons license.

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