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County again parks park-and-ride proposal

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s proposed financing scheme to build up to eight new park-and-rides along its toll roads is going nowhere fast.

On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court once again stopped short on a vote to direct $2.6 million to the plan.

The inaction marked the third time since Dec. 20 that the court discussed the proposal to waive its share of federal Qualified Energy Conservation bonds so that the CTRMA can attempt to claim the allocations.

During the Jan. 10 meeting, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt grew exasperated after Commissioner Jeff Travillion requested to postpone the question for a second time. Eckhardt granted the delay, but insisted that she would brook no further indecision on the matter. However, she tabled the item last week and, during a lengthy discussion on Tuesday, kiboshed the chance for a vote.

“I said last time I was impatient. And I said last time that we really needed to bring this. But now Commissioner (Brigid) Shea is off the dais and the city of Austin has still not taken up the issue,” Eckhardt explained.

“I have spent some time thinking about this, and I believe that I have been patiently waiting for more than eight years for an opportunity to put toll revenue toward transit,” she said. “I will continue to be patient. But what I grow impatient with is this desire to see something perfect and full-blown before we will dedicate ourselves to the issue.”

Eckhardt was referring to the continuing skepticism expressed by Travillion, Shea and Commissioner Margaret Gómez toward the proposal put forth by the CTRMA.

The agency’s $72 million vision would produce eight transit-oriented parking lots across the fringes of Austin’s city limits. Shea has bristled at several proposed sites in Southwest Austin, which could potentially sit on top of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. With her absent from Tuesday’s meeting, the proposal took its heaviest bruising from Travillion, who has objected to the short shrift the plan gives to East Austin.

He suggested that the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which would use the park-and-rides to collect commuters and drop them off, should focus on existing riders before attempting to attract new ones, many of whom would potentially live outside of the agency’s tax-collecting service area.

“I understand that there is a need to expand infrastructure over time. However, my concern is: As we have created infrastructure, has that infrastructure solved ridership problems?” Travillion said.

Capital Metro Long Range Planning Director Javier Arguello was on hand to mollify Travillion. He told the Precinct 1 commissioner that Capital Metro’s ongoing Connections 2025 service plan rewrite and Project Connect – the agency’s high-capacity planning process – are aimed at solving the broader problem of filling in transit gaps across the region.

“Specifically, we think that the Green Line will have a major potential to cover some of those gaps if that project becomes a reality,” Arguello said, referring to the potential commuter rail line connecting Manor to downtown Austin.

Travillion insisted that he was still unsatisfied in his quest to figure out how the park-and-ride proposal would benefit his constituents. “If it doesn’t make their lives better, it’s hard for me to support,” he said.

After the discussion, Eckhardt said she would table the item “until further notice.”

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