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Thursday, May 28, 2020 by Ryan Thornton
Financial commitment for I-35 continues to divide CAMPO
After weeks of running projects through updated scoring criteria, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is still not approaching consensus on a list of projects to defer from its 2021-2024 Transportation Improvement Program, in order to free up $633 million in state funds for the Capital Express Interstate 35 expansion.
Transportation Policy Board members requested the objective scoring process on April 20 after discovering that a dozen projects had not yet been evaluated when the deferral list was presented. However, now that the projects have been reprioritized through a planning review and cost-benefit analysis, the board is requesting further evaluation based on project timelines.
Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan noted at the board’s virtual workshop Wednesday that more than 10 projects have been added to the deferral list since April, all because “a few of us decided that we need to rescore this.” Two of the projects in his jurisdiction were scheduled to begin construction within less than 10 months.
The updated list includes 13 projects to keep in the four-year transportation program, four projects to receive partial funding and 29 to be indefinitely deferred.
Mayor Steve Adler, one of the board members who requested the project evaluation last month, said the scores are helpful but insufficient.
“It looked like some of the projects that are not being deferred, or being maintained, don’t have right of way yet or an understanding of what right of way needs to be obtained or the scope of utilities hasn’t gotten to the place yet where that’s been something that’s been looked at,” Adler said. “And to me those are signs that those projects aren’t quite ready yet.”
As part of an effort to boost job growth and recover from the economic impact of Covid-19, Adler said the region needs to prioritize projects that are shovel-ready and defer those that are planned further out.
Of the 13 projects not on the updated deferral list, three would begin construction in 2023 or after. At a cost of $75 million, a plan to add frontage roads to a section of U.S. Highway 183 between Avery Ranch Boulevard and RM 1431 would account for 48 percent of all project funding and would not be ready for construction until around August 2023. Two proposed intersection overpasses at Anderson Mill Road and RM 620 would not be ready for construction until May 2024, reserving a combined $25 million in anticipated state revenue until that time.
Pflugerville City Council Member Rudy Metayer said he had expected construction timelines to be considered in the updated scoring process based on the board’s requests. Ashby Johnson, executive director of CAMPO, explained that the previous deferral list proposed in April had considered project readiness but that this update excluded the criteria in favor of a more objective project evaluation.
In an attempt to reprioritize projects based on when they will be ready for construction, the board requested Wednesday that the agency return to the previously proposed deferral list and incorporate the updated project scores alongside evaluations of construction timelines, economic development activity and any relevant unique circumstances. The new list will be presented to the board in June for adoption.
“We have to vote on this June 8,” Chair Cynthia Long said. “I’m a bit concerned that we wanted a process, we got the results of the process, and now we don’t like the results of the process so we’re changing it again.”
See a list of projects currently slated to be deferred:
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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.