Naked City

Road Tested

After the fraught and tense excitement of the last months, it was kind of a shock to see the August 7 meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) Policy Advisory Committee move quickly and with an air of levity. Not that CAMPO isn't already the most entertaining public meeting in town. Put together two dozen officials of all political stripes, whose love for one another is well within control, and you could spend a pleasant evening just looking for suspicious glances, rolled eyes, and sarcastic asides, of which the committee chair, state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, provides ample supplies all by his lonesome.

But in terms of business, most of CAMPO's dirty work -- the 2025 transportation plan, the SH 130 unpleasantness, light rail, peer review -- has already been done. So what's left? A lot of smaller stuff of more than routine import. Some highlights:

  • How fast should trains run? The Texas Dept. of Transportation is lobbying the U.S. DOT to make the Texas Eagle Amtrak route -- from Texarkana to Fort Worth, then south through Austin to San Antonio -- an official "high-speed rail" route. (Eight such corridors exist, and the feds can adopt three more.) This does not mean "high-speed rail" the way we meant it a few years back, during the aborted push for a 200-mile-an-hour Texas TGV "supertrain." Rather, we'd be talking about 90 miles an hour instead of 60 through the open country. The CAMPO board signed on.

    What this really means is about $5 million in federal funds a year to improve the tracks, grade-separate the crossings, and suchlike, which is an attractive thought to neighborhoods along the Union Pacific (MoPac) line, as well as cities like Taylor and San Marcos, all of whom have gotten exactly nowhere in their pleadings with UP. "There are immediate issues along the MoPac line that this money can address," said Austin Neighborhoods Council president and longtime railhead Will Bozeman.

  • How much should Koenig Lane cost? The seemingly endless Spur 69 project to improve Koenig, from Airport to Lamar -- first proposed in the mid-1980s, first funded in 1996 -- hasn't even gone to bid yet, and it's already 53% over budget ($3.6 million vs. $2.36 million). This overrun was explained to the CAMPO board in a breezy four-paragraph memo, of which state Rep. Glen Maxey was not having any. "This looks like a pretty shoddy deal," Maxey said, as personages on the committee nodded gravely.

    The sentiment was reinforced by Brentwood NA rep and recent City Council candidate Clare Barry, who complained that even the high-dollar Koenig Lane is still a far cry from the "model urban boulevard" envisioned all these years ago. This got tabled until TxDOT gets its act together and the neighborhoods look for money for the amenities they want.

  • How wide should FM 969 be? Back on June 12, when CAMPO adopted its 2025 plan, former council member Gus Garcia and Travis Co. Commissioner Ron Davis, armed for bear, made sure that Martin Luther King/FM 969 did not get widened, at all, at any point between I-35 and Johnny Morris Road. Well, it turns out that there are projects already funded and underway to put in sidewalks, drainage improvements, and a center left-turn lane (a needed improvement in the notoriously unsafe eastern reaches of the road), which means the plan needs to allow MLK to be converted, at least, to a divided road. Planners tried to sneak in their fervent wish that the road east of U.S. 183 be widened to six or eight lanes, but Davis made short work of that sentiment.

  • And where should US 183-A go? The Texas Turnpike Authority's (TTA) proposed toll-road bypass between Davis Springs Road and the San Gabriel River has gone to its draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) phase, which means it's your turn to pitch in. The public hearing is being held at 6pm Tuesday, Aug.15, at Giddens Elementary School in Cedar Park, and TTA is taking comments until August 28. Two alignments are proposed -- unlike with SH 130, the one everyone wants (including the TTA) is closer to the cities of Leander and Cedar Park. This 11.6-mile road will cost over $200 million, including $50 million for right-of-way alone, but TTA is looking for a private-sector player to build it. Both alignments will run over a cave with cave bugs, and at least one prehistoric site, so the mitigation process is in the works. As with SH 130, CAMPO isn't allowed to veto one or the other alignment, and it's already in the 2025 plan, so assuming nothing weird happens, this road should be ready for your vehicle by 2007.

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