Photo by ATXN
Tuesday, October 5, 2021 by Seth Smalley

Council seeks clarity ahead of end-of-month transportation vote

During a joint meeting of Austin City Council and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors, members questioned Capital Metro staff on several issues, ranging from additional public input opportunities to language in a proposed ordinance that could potentially waive regulations for transit developments.

Council Member Ann Kitchen called for additional meetings for community members to give input to Council before the Oct. 29 vote on Project Connect items at the Capital Metro board meeting.

“This is set up such that the next time that people can testify in front of us is on the same day that we vote,” Kitchen said, referring to the Oct. 29 vote on a number of action items. “So I’m just flagging that for folks.”

The items up for vote include a resolution that would direct staff to review code criteria to determine impediments to the administration of Project Connect, a predictability ordinance as well as a permitting and regulations ordinance.

Council Member Alison Alter asked for more information on Capital Metro’s workforce development program as well as a disparity study, which is currently underway, intended to assist Capital Metro and the Austin Transit Partnership to hit their DBE goals. (DBE stands for Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, a federal certification initiative aimed at helping a variety of socially disadvantaged business owners, particularly women and minorities.)

“I wanted to acknowledge that we have been doing a disparity study at the city of Austin. How is there overlapping work and how are you building off of the work that the city of Austin has already done with respect to minority- and women-owned businesses?” Alter asked.

Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke responded that the transit agency is using the city study as foundational information and that the Capital Metro study will be more detailed in terms of professional and business categories.

“Obviously the availability of people doing rail signaling work is different than maybe the city would be bidding on parks or other types of equipment. But I think it’s all connected from an underlying availability and disparity within the community, then broken down by categories,” Clarke said.

Of the workforce development program, Clarke said, “There is no chance of doing these projects correctly if we don’t develop a workforce to help deliver this program … so the availability of workforce today is somewhat of an issue and we know we have to get workers trained and be part of that program for the future.”

Clarke added that Capital Metro is in the process of hiring a director of workforce development.

Finally, Council Member Leslie Pool expressed concern over language in one of the ordinances up for approval on Oct. 29 that was intended to combat any needless bureaucratic processes that could slow the development of Project Connect. Pool worried that it “gives blanket approval to waive the code except for the transportation criteria manual to the city manager. The piece that’s being waived would be from our environmental regulations, particularly on water quality and drainage.”

“I think we can move Project Connect forward expeditiously, but I do think we also need to make sure that we adhere to specific regulations in the environmental space,” she noted.

Addressing the language in question, Capital Metro staff maintained it was not their intent to loosen any environmental regulations. “It is speaking specifically to changes in regulations that would happen potentially between Oct. 29, 2021, and December 2022. Any of our existing criteria that are required with the city code would be in place.”

The Community Advisory Committee and Technical Advisory Committee will provide input at a public meeting today.

The joint body’s next gathering will take place Oct 29.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

Project Connect: This project brought together a series of Central Texas transportation agencies looking to build high-capacity transit options in the region in the wake of CAMPO's 2035 regional transportation plan. The City of Austin's much-discussed 2014 Urban Rail plan was part of Project Connect's efforts.

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