Thursday, October 19, 2017 by Jessi Devenyns

Council to take up street impact fees today

In an effort to help fund public infrastructure made necessary by new development, the Austin Transportation Department is proposing new street impact fees throughout the city. These one-time fees for developers constructing new sites are intended to help pay for road improvements to assist in mitigating traffic in the expanding city of Austin.

On Oct. 10, Liane Miller, the department’s project coordinator, and Jeff Whitacre of Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. presented phase one of the street impact fees project to the Urban Transportation Commission for a recommendation.

City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal today.

According to the Transportation Department, this initiative is meant to function as a tool for programs that are helping shape the city’s new transportation plans such as CodeNEXT and the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan. “Our desire is to have a fee that is fair and reasonable for developers to contribute to that add vehicular capacity associated with new development,” explained Miller. The assumption is that new development will bring growth and therefore more traffic on Austin roads.

As for the timing, Commissioner JD Gins had a question.

“Why are we making any assumptions right now when we’re about six months out from getting our directives for land use?” he asked, referencing the CodeNEXT rewrite currently underway.

At the moment, the land use assumptions that constitute phase one are based on Imagine Austin’s 10-year growth concept as well as existing land use and emerging project data. Fees will be determined based on the number of units served, which is directed by the zoning and the number of vehicle miles traveled. Residential service units will be based on the number of dwelling units, while units in commercial zones will be based on square footage.

This fee calculation, which will be finalized in phase three, is a formula that Whitacre said has been developed and used for years in 40 cities across Texas. In addition, Whitacre said that roadway capacity estimates were determined by consulting the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The proposed street impact fees will not only help service debt created by bond projects, but they will pay for the construction costs associated with improvements on the Roadway Capacity Plan and land acquisition costs. The fees will not, however, pay for operational maintenance.

Not all projects will have to pay the fee either. Street impact fees will only be charged for new capacity. According to Whitacre, “It’s not fair to charge for a road that already exists.” To explain how this philosophy plays out, he noted that if a two-lane road was widened to four lanes, “We would only put 50 percent of current construction costs to future growth projects.”

Miller explained that the biggest advantage to street impact fees is that, unlike today, “(developers) have more predictability because you know upfront what those mitigation fees will be.”

To initiate phase one, the department is proposing 17 unique service areas with the Colorado River being used as a geographical dividing line along with three major highways: Loop 360, U.S. Highway 183 and State Highway 71. Downtown was designated as its own service area due to its disproportionately high traffic.

Should these initial assumptions prove to be incorrectly estimated, the department may reevaluate its growth assumptions made for each service area and re-determine the associated fixed fee.

Whitacre explained, “Every six months the advisory committee is supposed to review the assumptions. State law requires us to update every five years.”

Bobak Tehrany, a traffic engineer who is on the Impact Fee Advisory Committee, addressed the commission to offer his support in the project moving forward.

“From where we sit today, this is a pretty easy thing to say yes to and move forward with,” he said.

The commission voted 7-1-2 to recommend approval of phase one land use assumptions to Council with Gins dissenting and Chair D’Ann Johnson and Commissioner Chris Hosek abstaining.

Photo courtesy of Nellis Air Force Base.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

CAMPO: The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is the regional planning organization for Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson Counties. Its membership is drawn from the elected officials of those municipalities, as well as various cities that fall within the region, including the City of Austin. CAMPO's focus is on regional transportation issues.

Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.

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