Dueling Bondage

Mayor and council members consider transportation packages

While the clock ticks down on budget preparation, Mayor Steve Adler and some City Council members are also working toward a possible November transportation bond vote. If they’re going to meet that ballot, they’ll have to take action soon – and decide what should be in the package.

Graphic courtesy of City of Austin

The mayor struck first, with a couple of public previews and now a resolution formalizing a proposal for a $720 million package that would include funding for “regional mobility” projects ($100 million), “corridor mobility” projects ($500 million, the heart of the proposal), and $120 million for “local mobility” projects – the latter to include smaller multimodal projects like trails and bike paths, and work on the “Vision Zero” anti-fatalities plan. The mayor’s nine-page resolution is heavy on “whereas-es” about the state of Austin transportation and affordability, and argues that adding density along corridors will not only aid traffic flow but establish the sort of walkable, bike-able neighborhoods that support mass transit – thereby reducing Austinites’ transportation costs.

The mayor’s resolution updates and refines numbers he’s floated earlier (“Spitting into Fires,” May 27), but the primary focus remains on “corridor plans” that have been in the planning stages for years, but never executed. There are seven “corridors” in the resolution: East Riverside Drive, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard/FM 969, North Lamar Boulevard, Burnet Road, South Lamar Boulevard, Airport Boulevard, and Guadalupe Street. The mayor’s basic argument is that if the long-planned improvements can be made to these streets, they’ll promote residential density on the boundaries of historical neighborhoods, and improve vehicle traffic flow while promoting multimodal transit.

At the June 1 work session discussion ("Burning Daylight," June 10) – nominally on the budget but devoting several hours to bonds – the rest of the dais did not exactly embrace the mayor’s general proposal. Everybody sounded rushed, and several council members suggested the plan sounded like too many highway miles, too few multimodes. That difference of opinion is carrying over this week; although the mayor garnered co-sponsors (District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, D3 CM Sabino Renteria, and D7 CM Leslie Pool), at least two of them are going public in searching for a better proposition. Tuesday morning, CMs Casar and Pool are holding a pre-work session press conference to release their own mobility plan.

“We need to focus less on widening roads,” said Casar in a press release, “and more on supporting public transportation and promoting safety for our kids and seniors who need basic infrastructure like sidewalks and crosswalks.” That was echoed by Pool: “This isn’t about laying concrete – it’s about building strong communities where you can walk to your neighbor’s house for dinner, where your children can bike to school safely.” Casar thanked the mayor for working on solutions, but said he and other CMs would offer amendments that would carry “a vision for a more livable, smart, mobile, and just Austin is better served with significant amendments to the Mayor’s current proposal.”

Also floating in the ether is a light rail plan proposed by the Central Austin Community Development Corporation, a small nonprofit group hoping to revive the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor as a site for rail – one of the contentious issues in the 2014 defeat of the last light rail plan. They’ve gotten support from the Urban Transportation Commission, and Commissioner J.D. Gins reiterated his support for rail on the fall ballot last week. “We need to go big and keep rail in the public conversation,” said Gins, and he also said he believes that given a route different from the more eastern route rejected by the voters in 2014, a light rail plan could pass. (More detail is available on the CACDC website.)

It should be noted that in the lengthy bond discussion held by Council June 1, there was barely a mention of rail, and although Casar has evinced some interest, several of the other CMs had strongly opposed the rail plan in their 2014 campaigns. And in a late May meeting with Chronicle reporters, Mayor Adler was asked if he thought the UTC recommendation was a realistic one. “For this November?” he responded. “No.”

Adler’s resolution does request the formation of a bond advisory committee aimed at additional research for potential bond votes in 2017 or 2018, “including but not limited to parks, libraries, flood mitigation, public safety, and affordable housing.” On the Council message board, the mayor said he’s expecting discussion of his resolution at this Thursday’s meeting (June 16) but no Council action before the June 23 meeting, when there may be additional public testimony. More information about the Council meetings, along with agendas and related documents, is available on the Council meeting website.)

This week, Council is in special "retreat" sessions (Monday and Tuesday) to consider various policy questions as well as formally evaluate (in executive session) City Manager Marc Ott, followed by a work session Wednesday and the regular meeting Thursday, June 16. For more Council coverage, follow the Daily News and the June 17 print edition.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Bond Election 2016, Election November 2016, Transportation Bond, Steve Adler

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