What Would $720 Million for Transportation Buy?
City Council mulls the "Go Big" bond in preparation for the November ballot
The centerpieces of the proposed Nov. 8 transportation bond – dubbed the "mobility bond" or "Go Big" bond by Mayor Steve Adler – are the seven "smart corridor" projects highlighted here, which have (or will soon have) corridor plans prepared by the Austin Transportation Department. Amid the several versions of the $720 million proposal debated by City Council, funding and projects were moved from other transportation priorities into this section of the package – not only to target completion funding for the seven corridors, but to develop plans for other significant roads (dubbed "future corridors") as well.
The currently proposed funding for current and future corridors is $482 million – two-thirds of the entire $720 million. The remaining funding would be dedicated to six "regional" mobility projects and a miscellany of "local," more "multimodal" projects, to include sidewalks, bicycle lanes and urban trails, and spot improvements like railroad crossings. See more detail on the jump pages. – Michael King
Go Big Corridor Plan – Total Package: $720,000,000
This is the latest tentative project list from the mayor's office. But it's worth noting that, in the ballot language and bond proposition that Council is currently considering, very little of this is actually specified. The regional mobility projects and existing corridor plans are named, but the bond language states only that the money will be spent on projects, including those, attaches no specific dollar amount to any of them, and does not mention any of the specific future corridors and substandard roadways listed below. The Local Mobility money is broken down to the general categories listed below, but with none of the specific substandard roadways identified.
10 Things to Know About the "Go Big" Bond Plan
1) The exact list of projects proposed to be funded has changed somewhat back and forth as the package was being developed, and is now deliberately vague in places. So the list at right isn't really real; it's what the money would probably be spent on if it were all being allocated today, but it's intended to be flexible. As all these projects roll out over the next eight years (or more), conditions may change and, within limits, City Council or the Transportation Department will be able to shift funding around pretty much however they want, within the general funding categories.
2) This lack of specificity is as much a political choice as a policy one.
3) Time is tight. For now, Council is planning to hear public speakers at their Aug. 11 meeting, and will need to pass the ordinance to set the ballot on all three readings at their Aug. 18 meeting, which would require seven votes, in order to meet the Aug. 22 deadline to have the ballot set, and language approved by the state.
4) In some fairly late maneuvering, seven more future corridors are now slated for preliminary engineering reports, and provision was made for one unspecified South Austin corridor to be added to the list of smart corridors, though no funding was added for it. Presumably, that would be one of the four southern corridors – South Congress, William Cannon, Slaughter, or Pleasant Valley – listed as Future Projects.
5) The Trails and Bicycle Master Plans each got a big bump, from $30 million to $50 million combined.
6) This massive plan places a lot of faith in (and pressure on) the Austin Transportation Department. This is a much bigger scope of work than they've managed before, and they anticipate adding 20-25 additional staff to manage that workload.
7) The ATD and Mayor Steve Adler are putting a lot of faith as well into a recent report from Jeffrey Tumlin entitled "Transportation Strategy Recommendations," which contains a number of suggestions for Austin transportation policy. First among them: "Implement Corridor Plans with a Focus on Walkability," and "Strengthen the Partnership between the City and Capital Metro through the Creation of an Austin Transportation Master Plan."
8) ATD is indeed developing the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, working with Capital Metro. Meanwhile, however, Capital Metro is producing its own Connections 2025 plan, which may or may not work in concert with the ASMP, or with the code revisions being contemplated by the CodeNEXT process (see below). Now, you might ask, in a perfect world, wouldn't we do all that planning first, and use it to inform the bond package, and Cap Met's long-range policy decisions? Or, maybe not.
9) The CodeNEXT team is currently taking input on its third of four Code "Prescriptions" – this one focused on mobility, and how the city can better address transportation issues in the Land Development Code rewrite. See the Mobility Prescription at www.austintexas.gov/codenext.
10) Meanwhile, the Central Austin Community Development Corp. continues to push for Council to place an additional item on the ballot: a 5.3-mile, $400 million light rail starter line in the Guadalupe-North Lamar corridor, running from Downtown to the Crestview Station at Airport Blvd. This week, they released a poll showing support from over 56% of likely voters, and got the endorsement of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. They say it's a no-lose scenario for Council to give voters their say; yet it seems unlikely any council member will take them up on it at this late date. – Nick Barbaro