Gómez Pushes Road Plan Near Racetrack
Commissioner says she's concerned about access and safety issues in her precinct
Travis County Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez's sudden attempt at jumpstarting development around the Circuit of the Americas racetrack in Southeast Austin comes also with an implied question – something other than the one about dollars that plagues all Texas road projects: If you build it, will they come?
To be clear, Gómez's pitch to bring a series of major new road projects to the region without voter approval is not couched exactly as a development push. During last week's meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court, she presented the idea to her colleagues as a push to reconcile the economic conditions of her constituents with those in the rest of the county. In a rambling, loaded statement, Gómez sort of made her case: "Now, from the headlines that I see as soon as we say we need roads in Precinct 4, immediately COTA comes up, and I think all that indicates is COTA has had great impact on Precinct 4 and in this region and this city," she said. "However, I don't want to let COTA, the impact they have had on us, drown out the voices of the Mexican-American community, which is predominant in Precinct 4. ... It's a diverse community. African-Americans live there, Anglos, rich, poor, it's ... a microcosm of this area. Those are the people I'm hearing from. And yes, I listen to every single person who calls me, whether they agree with the plan or not, but ... my job here as commissioner of Precinct 4 is to make sure that the voices of Mexican-Americans are not drowned out by other folks who may be more vocal and, while they are local [and] I listen to them, I've felt like I needed to bring to the attention of the Commissioners Court the needs in Precinct 4 and the people who live there." Her road construction plan, she continued, "addresses access and safety issues."
Gómez left it to former County Auditor Susan Spataro, who Gómez brought back from forced retirement to help on the matter, to fill the court in on the potential fiscal benefits. Still, Spataro stuck to the script. "One of the things that [Gómez] wanted just in terms of getting direction as to what she had in mind ... [is] a strategic initiative that would make meaningful first steps in creating economic opportunity, including road construction, jobs, and education in southeastern Travis County. Gómez did not want a superficial approach loaded with buzz words. She didn't want to toss out a couple of Band-Aids and pretend we were doing something when in fact nothing meaningful would happen."
The Gómez and Spataro plan will look to other regional entities, including the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and the city of Austin, to chip in for costs. (For his part, Austin Transportation Director Robert Spillar did not exactly sound enthusiastic about the idea.) But, aside from the jobs that could theoretically be created from construction work on the project, the roads themselves will bring not much other than, as Gómez put it, access and improved safety. To affect more permanent good in the region, Gómez has to hope that more lanes will lead to more business. And though that promise was made to commissioners by way of public testimony last Tuesday, whether a remote section of the county (superhuge COTA venue included) is the next fiscal hotspot remains to be seen.
Commissioners are expected to hear more detailed cost estimates for the project next Tuesday.