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The City of Austin’s $1.5 Billion Wish List

$50 million in I-35 improvements are included among a "needs assessment" from city departments.
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News
$50 million in I-35 improvements are included among a "needs assessment" from city departments.

While most of the chatter over Austin’s November bond election has revolved around urban rail and medical schools, those aren’t the only potential items on the ballot. In fact, they’re only a fraction of them.

We got a reminder of that this week when city departments presented a “needs assessment” to the Bond Election Advisory Task Force, a citizen task force created to recommend what makes it onto the ballot.

What is a needs assessment? Essentially, it’s a wish list from city departments outlining projects and initiatives they would like to undertake. The proposals are then weighted by need and urgency, and also compared against a set of values (cost-effectiveness, geographic balance, environmental protection, and more). Omnibus projects like rail or a med school would be considered separately from these departmental proposals.

While there’s no guarantee any of the below projects will make it before voters in their present form,  the list offers a revealing look at how city departments rank their priorities. So what’s on this massive, $1,500,000,000 wish list? We break it down below, highlighting the biggest proposals in each department:

Austin Public Library: About $8 million

Big Ticket Item: Austin History Center Interior & Exterior Improvement ($1,168,000)

These funds would cover upgrades including “wheelchair lifts replacement, lead abatement, waterproofing, renovation of worn finishes, lighting retrofit as well as renovation of exteriors to address structure and aesthetics.”

Austin Transportation Department: About $275 million

Big Ticket Items: Arterial Congestion & Crash Risk Mitigation ($41 million) and IH-35 Improvements ($50 million)

The congestion and crash program “mitigates adverse levels of congestion and crash risk through technology and physical modification of existing roadways and intersections, making travel for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and motorists safer and more efficient.” Spending on I-35 would be used to “Accommodate multi-modal roadway users and redesign facilities to address congestion, high pedestrian crash rates and disruptive lane closures due to accidents.”

EMS: About $3.8 million

Big Ticket Item: Ambulance Truck Bay Expansion (entire $3.8 million)

These upgrades would occur at three EMS stations: Station 2 (6601 Manchaca Road), Station 8 (5211 Balcones Drive), and Station 11 (5401 McCarty Lane).

Fire Department: About $139 million

Big Ticket Items:  a fire station in Loop 360 Area ($10,355,000) and a fire station in Southwest Travis County ($10,193,000)

This spending would build two 9,000 square foot stations to serve each region.

General Facilities: About $106 million

Big Ticket Item: 911 Dispatch Center Expansion at the Combined Transportation and Emergency Communications Center ($102.6 million)

For $102 million and change, the city would add “86,000 square feet to the CTECC facility located at 5010 Old Manor Road, construction of a 600 space parking garage, a new driveway entrance, and relocation of drainage and water quality facilities.”

Health and Human Services Department: About $13 million

Big Ticket Item: Betty Dunkerley Campus – Neighborhood Activity Center ($8.45 million)

Home to the new Austin Animal Center, this update to the Dunkerley campus buys “an 18,000 sq. ft. multi-purpose neighborhood center that may consist of one or more buildings.”

Neighborhood Housing and Community Development: About $91 million

Big Ticket Item:  Affordable Housing ($75 million)

Similar to the investment in affordable housing the city included in their last major bond election, $&5 million would go “to create, preserve, maintain housing affordability for low and moderate income individuals and families.” One other item of note is $14.6 million for streetscape improvements – “sidewalks, street trees, site furnishings, underground utilities and wastewater improvements” – along E. 12th street, which neighbors have been advocating for for some time.  

Parks and Recreation Department: About $141 million

Big Ticket Item: Metropolitan Parks - Improvements and Renovation ($33.3 million)

This expenditure would address “accessibility, infrastructure, structures, picnic and play equipment, site furnishings, landscape, etc) and significant renovations to existing amenities/facilities” at larger, destination parks across the city. Funding is also included separately for improvements to neighborhood parks.

Planning and Development Review: About $300 million

Big Ticket Items: Waller Creek & Trail Improvements ($40.5 million), Sabine Street "Promenade" ($10.7 million) and Waller Creek Roadway Improvements ($8.8 million)

Waller Creek is the apple of Planning and Development Review’s eye, as they earmark funds for several amenities to the under-construction urban riverwalk.  The first package includes “Design and construction of creek and trail improvements between Lady Bird Lake and East 12th Street in the Waller Creek District,” and “design and construction for streambank stabilization, revegetation, trails, lighting and signage.” The Promenade package would finance “roadway and streetscape improvements to Sabine Street between East 3rd and East 7th Streets, in the Waller Creek District”.  Roadway and sidewalk improvements would also be made “on Rainey Street between Driskill and Cesar Chavez Streets to improve local connectivity as recommended.”

Police Department: About $143 million

Big Ticket Item: APD Main Headquarters Facility ($78.1 million)

“APD's existing headquarters building has exceeded its functional life span,” the police write. “This project will provide for a new facility to meet departmental space and service needs.” APD’s request also includes funding for upgrades to the city’s north, south, and central west substations.

Public Works: About $221 million

Big Ticket Items: Street Reconstruction Program ($90 million), Sidewalks, Ramps, Curbs and Gutters  ($45,000,000)

Funding for these Public Works initiatives would make the above infrastructure improvements citywide.

Watershed Protection Department: $50 million

Big Ticket Item: Open Space Acquisition (entire $50 million)

This cash would be used to purchase “properties to protect water quality and quantity for maintenance of recreational quality, endangered species habitat, and light recreational activities.”

You can view the entire report online.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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