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Travis County looks to tap CTRMA to fast-track bond projects

Thursday, March 1, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority have both signed on to negotiations that could leverage the CTRMA’s prodigious road-building capabilities to boost priority safety improvements in the southeastern quadrant of the county.

On Wednesday, the CTRMA board of directors unanimously voted to enter into negotiations with the county on an interlocal agreement that would outsource to the mobility authority expansions of Elroy Road and Ross Road in Precinct 4.

The Commissioners Court approved last fall an issuance of $95 million in certificates of obligation to fund a list of key safety projects, including the plans for Elroy and Ross roads.

However, county staff is also burdened with the $185 million package of transportation and parks projects that voters approved in November. Adding pressure to that unprecedented load of work is the court’s pledge to complete the work in just five years.

The potential arrangement between the authority and county has precedent. In 2015, the CTRMA expanded Kellam Road on the county’s behalf. Like Elroy and Ross roads, Kellam is also in Del Valle.

After a short and smooth discussion on Wednesday, the board gave its unanimous approval to enter into discussions with the county over the proposal. That placid affair stood in contrast to the rocky reception it received from members of the Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

“I have not been hugely warm on this idea for a couple of reasons,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt explained at that meeting. “The biggest reason is that we, many years ago, moved away from having separate transportation and parks offices for each precinct.”

She urged staff to take precautionary measures “so that we do not get into a circumstance that we had decades ago where individual precinct offices actually run contracts.”

Commissioner Margaret Gómez, in whose Precinct 4 the projects in question are located and who has served on the court since her first election in 1994, quickly replied, “But when the precincts were doing that, as I recall, projects got done pretty fast because there was less bureaucracy involved.”

Eckhardt responded by asking Gómez if she would prefer to go back to the old system.

“I’ve given it some thought,” said Gómez, before repeating, “I’ve given it some thought. Because if it means we get projects done a lot faster – we focus on one precinct instead of focusing on the entire county – it might not be a bad idea to discuss.”

“Then your preferences are noted,” Eckhardt told her.

Pledging to keep a close eye on the potential partnership, Eckhardt voted to instruct staff to negotiate the interlocal agreement with the CTRMA. She was joined by Gómez and commissioners Gerald Daugherty and Jeff Travillion. Commissioner Brigid Shea abstained after expressing concerns over potential conflicts of interest involving subcontractors operating on both county and CTRMA-related projects.

On Wednesday, Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein explained to reporters why the CTRMA is willing to take on the county’s roadwork.

“Since they’re one of our founding partners, we feel like it’s a service to them,” he said. On top of those neighborly intentions, the authority could also collect up to 2 percent of the estimated $33.3 million cost of the two road expansions.

Photo by Bob McMillan (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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