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Council gears up for mobility bond investments

Thursday, May 4, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

City Council is on the verge of approving tens of millions of dollars to help jump-start the ambitious mobility bond program voters approved last November.

The agenda holds a full six items that would cumulatively earmark $39 million for transportation projects, begin hiring new staff to absorb the crush of incoming work and authorize negotiations with the state to partner together on hundreds of millions of dollars in highway investments.

The raft of measures are the second and so far most substantial round of action linked to the $720 mobility bond championed by Mayor Steve Adler.

Adler himself was on hand at Wednesday afternoon’s meeting of the Council Mobility Committee, during which staff provided an update on the preparations underway to execute the bond program within the eight-year time frame that Council pledged to the voters.

“This is a huge program and we’re doing it in probably half the time that we anticipated that we’d be able to do it,” Assistant City Manager Robert Goode reminded his audience in the crowded Boards and Commissions Room inside City Hall.

He provided a short presentation that outlined the items the full Council will consider today. One of those would amend the current budget to channel $39 million into the Transportation and Public Works departments to carry out corridor work, sidewalk upgrades, bike lane and urban trail investments, and other safety upgrades. A companion resolution would signify Council’s intent to reimburse the budget bending with future bond allocations.

Of the $39 million, $9 million would cover preliminary work along Spicewood Springs Road as well as the city’s entire share for a project at FM 620 and FM 2222 being carried out in partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation.

Another $12 million from the pot would pay for preliminary engineering reports for future corridor improvement programs along 10 roadways, including Rundberg Lane, Colony Loop Drive, Manchaca Road and South Congress Avenue.

The remainder of the money will likewise be spent on engineering, design and construction of sidewalks, bike lanes and urban trails. Safety projects under the aegises of Vision Zero and Safe Routes to School will also receive funding.

Council is also set to consider adding 21 new full-time employees to the ranks of five separate departments scrambling to meet the eight-year deadline. Of those, only a third will have salaries paid for by the bond money. The salaries of the remaining 14 will be picked up through other city accounts and revenue streams, including the Transportation User Fee.

The remaining bond-related items on Council’s agenda aim to start talks with TxDOT on projects along Loop 360, Parmer Lane, and at FM 620 and FM 2222. The city’s share of those projects adds up to $70.5 million. Council will have to take subsequent votes to disburse that money once the agreements are in place.

Goode also explained that staff is still working on prioritization frameworks to determine which of the city’s many needs receive part of the massive yet still inadequate bond spending. In the meantime, he and Transportation Director Robert Spillar explained that the bond project team is coordinating with the myriad other ongoing planning efforts, including the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Project Connect and CodeNEXT.

Spillar told the committee that the corridor investments – which are by Council resolution intended first and foremost to reduce congestion – will also generate economic activity which will benefit the city’s bottom line.

“I know upzoning is a bad word here, but we will be able to increase the intensity of specific nodes as we make dramatic improvements and that’s where I think you can capture that value if that’s the desire of Council.”

Photo by Lars Plougmann made available through a Creative Commons license.

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