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Reporter’s Notebook: Best-laid plans

Monday, June 19, 2017 by Austin Monitor

No two ways about it… yet… Like many, many other projects around town, the conversion of downtown’s Colorado Street to a two-way avenue will be delayed, albeit slightly. Crews have been reconstructing the street from the Governor’s Mansion on West 10th Street all the way down to Cesar Chavez Street in 2015. According to the project’s website, officials were expecting the work to wrap up this month. However, Austin Transportation Department traffic engineer Lee Austin told the Urban Transportation Commission last Tuesday that separate construction of the University of Texas System’s new headquarters on West Seventh Street slowed city workers down by a hair. The timeline now has the job ending in early August, though the conversion won’t happen for at least several weeks after that. Austin explained that the two-way conversion on East Fifth Street – a switch designed to accommodate the permanent closure of East Fourth Street to make way for the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Downtown Station upgrades – is scheduled for the week of Aug. 8. “I don’t want to convert two streets in downtown to two-way in the same week,” Austin said. Instead, she’s hoping to convert Colorado Street at the end of August. Once that happens, cars will be able to travel in one lane in each direction between Cesar Chavez Street and West Ninth Street. “We are not taking it all the way to 10th Street mostly because the Governor’s Mansion expressed concerns that if they had traffic heading their direction there would be drunk drivers coming up and taking out their guard house,” Austin told the commission.

Capitol ideas… Remember the 2016 Texas Capitol Complex Master Plan? According to a June 16 memo from Development Services Department Director Rodney Gonzales, City Hall eyes will have to stay focused on the state campus for a bit longer, because plans are starting to move forward. City Council will hear the details on the plans this Tuesday, at its work session, in advance of a vote on an interlocal agreement between the city and the Texas Facilities Commission. This summer, the commission plans to kick off the $581 million phase one of the master plan. To do that, according to the memo, they are asking for “expedited processing of all aspects of the project requiring City consideration; waiver of easement and right-of way usage fees; conversion of 16th, 17th and 18th Streets to two-way; and, vacation and conveyance of North Congress Avenue from the northern boundary of 15th St. to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., along with a portion of 17th Street.” If everything goes according to (master) plan, the project will cost about $1.4 billion, when all is said and done.

Austin becoming a “smart city” bodes security questions… On Wednesday, the Technology and Telecommunications Commission heard from the Innovation Office about what makes a “smart city,” and how to secure Austin’s data if it becomes one. Ben Guhin, the Innovation Office’s senior adviser for design and technology, said the idea of a “smart city” focuses on how technology is used to solve city transportation issues, rather than simply having flashy and new technology (like flying cars). After a definition was established, some commissioners moved on to concerns over how secure data collected on transportation technology would be and how it would be published, if at all. “We’ve been talking of the issue of privacy,” said Vice Chair Mateo Clarke. “The city’s been involved in doing some census of different immigrant communities, kind of with the good faith effort of how to serve those populations, but then how does that data get shared with federal agencies like (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and how it could be used to target vulnerable populations?” Guhin said much of the processes are still transitioning from paper to digital format, and so those challenges will arise as they become digitized. “One thing we haven’t talked about yet to my knowledge is whether we want to be opt in or opt out as a city when it comes to how things are published. And I think that’s an interesting (thing) for the residents to tell us, what is their priority?”

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard, Lisa Dreher and Elizabeth Pagano.

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