Toll Party Hits a Snag, Changes Course
The Austin Toll Party tried to turn an organizational failure into a PR victory on Monday by recasting its recall petition drive against three city council members as a recall aiming solely at Mayor Will Wynn and extending the petition drive deadline.
The Toll Party's announcement came Monday night after a Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board meeting in which the second draft of CAMPO's 25-year mobility plan was released and board members shot down an attempt by one former recall target to subject the toll road plan to greater public scrutiny.
The recall effort originally sought to punish Wynn and Council members Brewster McCracken and Danny Thomas for voting in favor of the toll road plan, but Toll Party leader Sal Costello said the drive will now focus on Wynn alone. That announcement was no surprise, given the group's preoccupation with Wynn in most of its literature and signs.
The possibility of the group getting a recall on the ballot, however, appears slim, at best. The last day the Council can put a referendum on the ballot is March 7, with the last council meeting to call the election scheduled for March 3. City Secretary Shirley Brown is given 20 days to verify the signatures, so even if the petitions were valid and it's questionable whether the old "all three" and the new "only Wynn" petitions can be counted together the timeline for submitting petitions for a 20-day review was last Friday.
McCracken's effort to put the toll road plan under greater scrutiny also fell to a split vote on the CAMPO board. The vote was 14-8 against, similar to the vote on the original toll road plan, with Wynn and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty switching sides on the issue. Wynn agreed to an independent review of the plan. Daugherty voted against the motion, fearful it would endanger new funds.
Daugherty, well known for his skepticism of mass transit and the toll road plan, gave toll road opponents his own wake-up call, rebuking them for their pot shots during public testimony. Daugherty said his constituents had given him marching orders to get roads built and if that meant some compromise, he was going to do it. He pointed out that the projects most abhorrent to the toll road opponents William Cannon Bridge and Loop 360 had been removed from the plan and put aside for further study, respectively.
Central Texas spent two decades avoiding new roads and had gotten itself into trouble, Daugherty said. Now the only path to new mobility funding was through toll roads. Forced to choose between playing the outsider and working within the system, Daugherty chose to compromise on some of the issues to get what he wanted.
Costello, for his part, sidestepped the insults others threw at the board and stuck to a few key themes, saying Austin was going further than any other city in Texas when it came to toll roads, turning what should be local highways into tollways and creating a system in which half the local roads would be tolled. The experiment, Costello said, was going to turn Austin into the Toll Road Capital of Texas.
As for the aforementioned CAMPO Mobility 2030 plan, the five-year revision of the 25-year plan for area transportation projects is premised on projections that the central Texas population will double by 2030 to 2.75 million people a projection called "conservative" by CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick. Aulick said the projections underlie CAMPO's current push for accelerated highway construction and tolls, though he acknowledged that growth is occurring so quickly that the new roads will only slow, not actually reduce, the rising rate of traffic congestion.
A public forum on the plan was held Wednesday night at the Carver Library, and two more are scheduled: Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 6-8pm, and San Marcos Public Library, Monday, Feb. 28, 6-8pm. The CAMPO Transportation Planning Board will host a public hearing on the draft plan on March 14. The plan is available for review at local libraries, the CAMPO office (505 Barton Springs Rd. #700), and at www.campotexas.org. Comments may be submitted to CAMPO by mail, fax, or Web site until March 18.