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Capital Metro board approves new budget

Monday, October 2, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority will cruise through its next fiscal year with a budget of $419 million.

The agency’s board of directors approved that budget with a unanimous vote – minus an absent Board Member Terry Mitchell – during its regular monthly meeting on Friday.

The new budget reflects the tenuous position the agency maintains when it comes to external economic conditions.

“Most of our service expansion will be funded by lower diesel costs next year,” Budget Director Kevin Conlan told the board.

A large chunk of the coming year’s spending – $152 million – will go toward capital projects including the expansion of the MetroRail’s Downtown Station and a brand new park-and-ride facility beneath State Highway 71 near South Lamar Boulevard.

The package also accounts for the planned realignment of Capital Metro’s bus network that is scheduled to take effect next June. Multiple speakers showed up at the meeting to complain about those changes, which favor frequency over service area coverage. Those remarks were presaged last year by Russ Chisholm, the president of the consultant firm that helped develop the plan, when he first introduced the concept of what is known as Connections 2025.

Clearly moved by the speakers’ emotional testimony, City Council Member Delia Garza acknowledged Chisholm’s warning.

“But,” she said, “It’s really hard as these changes come closer to see folks who have been our customers who have depended on us who need this service. In a way, it feels like we’re abandoning those folks to try to get new people. And I’m not happy with the plan as it is right now.”

Conlan said that the new budget increases the agency’s operating contingency from $1 million to $3 million. Garza suggested increasing that amount should the Connections 2025 proposal be altered.

In addition to the budget, the board also approved a five-year capital improvement plan. With the slumping revenue projections, the agency expects to spend only $26 million on capital projects in 2021.

Though she ended up voting for both the budget and the plan, Council Member Ann Kitchen raised her concerns about the agency’s strategy for installing shelters and benches at stops that meet a boarding and alighting threshold sufficient enough to be considered high priority.

Kitchen suggested shortening the timetable to place the $1.3 million worth of amenities for riders.

“I think a five-year rollout is too long,” Kitchen said. “To me, that’s part of serving our customers and making it possible for them to ride.”

The board approved the budget on a 6-0 vote, with Mitchell absent.

Photo by John Flynn.

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