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County commissioners send admonishing letter to CAMPO

Monday, April 20, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

After weeks of debate, the Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously voted to send a letter to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization criticizing its planning process for the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan.

However, despite concerns from commissioners and the public about the limited public engagement process over the reallocation of $600 million from CAMPO and the axing of 31 projects required to complete the $4.3 billion expansion of Interstate 35, the letter did not directly address the Texas Transportation Commission project.

Instead, the letter suggests creating a transparent process to guide the restoration of project funding for the 31 deferred projects. The Commissioners Court encouraged CAMPO to prioritize deferred projects for future funding and investigate other funding avenues.

“I thought it was going to be a little more harsh, but I think it’s very straightforward and very practical,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said at the April 14 meeting of the Commissioners Court.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt called the letter a “solid recommendation” and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said, “I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Despite the commissioners’ support for the letter, community members who dialed in to speak to the Commissioners Court expressed ongoing discomfort with the process to approve the 25-year plan.

Mike Clifford, a South Austin resident, told commissioners he believes CAMPO is trying to “ramrod this plan through.” He explained that ongoing errors in the posted plan and the lack of engagement with the public has resulted in distrust from the community.

“Ms. Long has made it so difficult for any of us to express our concern,” he said, referring to Cynthia Long, the chair of the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board.

Kelly Davis, a staff attorney with the Save Our Springs Alliance, noted that the plan has multiple omissions and errors, including several projects in Hays County that are missing from the project map. When she inquired about the missing projects, she told the Commissioners Court, “I got no explanation, no correction.” As the draft of the plan continues to have errors and the online comment process does not record the names of submitters, she said “it just really seems designed to discourage public comment.”

In the letter, the Commissioners Court specifically notes that the missing and insufficient information in the 2045 plan has made public engagement “difficult.” In particular, the letter calls out the interactive map on CAMPO’s website, saying it has continued to be error-ridden despite periodic updates.

Citizens also critiqued the state’s choice to claw back $600 million from the CAMPO budget in order to fund the expansion of Interstate 35. Austin resident Roger Baker said the project deferment ranking had a “lack of a rational evaluation method where the public can see the projects compared in a realistic way.”

The letter from the Commissioners Court acknowledges this issue and calls for the development of standard processes for project prioritization.

In fact, the letter points to “larger issues with the planning process” that are not specific to CAMPO’s 2045 plan. The lack of standardization and transparency are highlighted, as well as the fact that the overall planning process “is often rushed, resulting in inadequate review times, incomplete or incorrect materials, and last minute addendums and decision-making.”

Although Commissioner Shea criticized the letter for not being as severe as she expected, she said, “I think it speaks very powerfully to the process that CAMPO should be putting in place.”

Shea noted that she will not be voting in favor of the CAMPO 2045 plan at the board meeting, which takes place today.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license

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