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Oak Hill approval ‘required by law’

Wednesday, February 13, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

In a memorandum regarding last week’s City Council decision to allocate $3.3 million from the 2016 Mobility Bond for the Oak Hill Parkway project, Austin Transportation Director Rob Spillar wrote, “This participation is required by state law.” The money represents 10 percent of the state transportation department’s costs for right-of-way purchase and reimbursable utilities relocation and is considered the city’s local participation. At the Council meeting on Jan. 31, Council Member Kathie Tovo asked Spillar to clarify that obligation. Spillar replied that participation is required by law “because it is not a toll facility.” In other words, the obligation is inherently bound to the project’s current design. The city, however, chose to repeatedly frame the vote as a legal obligation that could not be negotiated. At the meeting, several Council members stated variations on the idea that no matter how the city voted, the Texas Department of Transportation would build the highway anyway. Even Council Member Leslie Pool, who voted against the project, acknowledged that her vote would not change the outcome. The answer to the Council members’ collective resignation is that the city is benefiting significantly by cooperating with TxDOT. Specifically, the city is able to get a number of projects done for less than the price of one, allowing the city to put roughly $5 million from the 2016 mobility bond to other uses. In return, TxDOT gets to build the highway it wants to build with the city’s approval. Approval of the Oak Hill Parkway project is a legal obligation because the city has accepted TxDOT’s compromise and is going forward with its part of the agreement.

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