Austin City Council discusses road project options to add to November rail bond

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Austin City Council discusses road project options to add to November rail bond
by Amy Denney
Impact News
June 11, 2014

Austin City Council is discussing $480 million in road projects, including several on I-35, that could be added to a potential $700 million urban rail bond package that would go before voters Nov. 4.

City staff presented a menu of options totaling $1.185 billion, well beyond the city’s maximum amount of bonds it could sell at $965 million. This 2014 strategic mobility plan is based on a shared solution approach to invest in both roads and high-capacity transit, such as urban rail, Transportation Department Director Rob Spillar said. The city had previous strategic mobility plans in 2010 and 2012.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell said council has a tough decision of how to whittle the list of options into a package the city can afford. The city also will only sell bonds if it receives federal funding for the urban rail project, he said. Typically, the Federal Transit Administration will fund about 50 percent of a project.

“We believe that a package that looks like that has a great deal of appeal and has a good chance of succeeding,” he said during the June 10 council work session. “If we can put together a package that has broad appeal, there’s a good chance we can go ahead with our strategic mobility plan.”

Road projects listed in the options are of regional significance, including portions of I-35, Spillar said. The city worked with the Texas Department of Transportation in creating the list because several I-35 projects are keystone projects, meaning they have to occur first before TxDOT can add the Future Transportation Corridor—a set of lanes, one in each direction—on I-35, he said.

“That reflects the fact that [the city] invested previously in our bonds to get ready for I-35,” Spillar said. “We think there is a good set of potential projects there on I-35 that advance the potential for future transit investments.”

Not included in the options are the corridors that the city has already studied for infrastructure needs, including Airport Boulevard, East Riverside Drive, Burnet Road, North Lamar Boulevard and FM969/Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Councilman Chris Riley said he would have liked to see more investment of these roads because they are mentioned in the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan for walkable environments.

Leffingwell said I-35 is the biggest concern for most people in the region and critical for the city to address. He added that city bonds in 2010 and 2012 also devoted money to those corridors.

“This menu has been developed with respect to what people in this city have been clamoring for and been developed to have appeal to voters,” he said. “The objective is to have a strategic mobility plan that actually makes a difference in moving traffic in the shortest time frame possible.”

Road and rail options for Nov. 4 bond package:
    •    $700 million: 9.5 mile urban rail route
    •    $130 million: North I-35/US 183 interchange
    •    $120 million: I-35 downtown access roadway/Riverside interchange
    •    $90 million: South I-35 interchanges (Oltorf, Stassney, William Cannon)
    •    $80 million: SH 71/Austin-Bergstrom International Airport direct access
    •    $34 million: US 183/Riverside interchange
    •    $16 million: Regional multimodal corridor development strategies (Loop 360, RM 620, RM 2222, FM 734)
    •    $10 million: I-35 regional Traffic Management Center to facilitate I-35 construction
    •    $5 million for the Project Connect Next Central Corridor to consider where to expand rail
Upcoming meeting schedule and significant dates
    •    June 13: The Central Corridor Advisory Group makes its recommendation of the locally preferred alternative, or LPA, for urban rail to mayor Lee Leffingwell
    •    June 17: City Council and the Capital Metro board of directors review the proposed urban rail plan
    •    June 20: City staff forwards the recommended 2014 strategic mobility plan to City Council
    •    June 24: Capital Metro board considers the urban rail LPA
    •    June 26: City Council considers the 2014 strategic mobility plan, including the urban rail LPA
    •    Aug. 7: City Council considers calling a bond election for Nov. 4
    •    Nov. 4: Voters could consider a bond package that would include both urban rail and road projects