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Wednesday, July 19, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Commissioners Court closes in on bond proposition

Travis County voters could weigh in on a pair of bond propositions worth a combined $144 million this November.

The Citizens Bond Advisory Committee formally floated that recommendation to the Commissioners Court on Tuesday after months spent trimming down a billion-dollar list of potential bond-funded projects.

The CBAC’s two recommended propositions would be divided between transportation projects and parks investments. The former would include roadway expansions as well as sidewalk and bicycle infrastructure and be worth $58.3 million. The parks proposition adds up to $72.6 million, including $21.2 million for a youth sports complex in western Travis County.

The CBAC also recommended that the court issue $90.6 million in certificates of obligation, which do not require voter approval, over a four-year period in order to fund road and bridge safety investments as well as drainage projects.

John Langmore, vice chair of the CBAC, encouraged the court to move forward with the complete set of recommendations. Each project included, he said, is inextricably linked to the others.

“It’s like trying to pull one thread out of a sweater,” said Langmore. “You can’t do that.”

The 15-member CBAC has held 24 meetings since it was originally convened earlier this year. The original expectations were that the group would put forward a smaller set of proposals that would avoid political sticker shock. However, the daunting list of high-priority projects led to a larger than anticipated recommendation.

A $144 million bond referendum would be almost half the size of the $287 million civil courthouse proposal that voters narrowly rejected in 2015. It would also be significantly smaller than the $1.05 billion the Austin Independent School District is putting before its voters this November.

Despite the unexpected outcome, the general estimation of the CBAC and its work was high on Tuesday. Langmore and CBAC Chair Ron Wattinger effusively praised their 13 colleagues as well as the staff members who assisted in the effort. Each member of the court also offered words of appreciation.

However, the recommendation came with a minority report signed by members Andrew Clements, Leah Bojo, Amanda Brown and Heyden Walker. They open the report with the disclaimer that their intent is not to dispute the final findings of the CBAC but rather to provide “recommendations for consideration in future Travis County bond proposals and advisory efforts.”

The report takes a skeptical stance toward more roadway capacity investments based on the notion of induced demand, or the principle that more road capacity simply stimulates more traffic.

The report concludes, “(I)nstead of focusing on supplying the perceived need for roadway capacity, we should also be striving to satisfy transportation demand and mobility need. … Given the size of Travis County, and the municipalities contained therein, Public Transportation/Mass Transit is the most viable option for improving regional mobility.”

The court took no action on the CBAC’s recommendations on Tuesday. A public hearing on the project list is set for July 25 and County Judge Sarah Eckhardt indicated the court will take a vote on Aug. 8 to approve the final proposition.

In a statement sent out after Tuesday’s meeting, Eckhardt said, “The court will take time over the next several weeks to review the committee’s recommendations, accept public input, and craft a bond proposition we feel voters will be happy to support this November.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.

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