From The Austin Monitor: With their eyes on a possible transportation bond election in November, City Council members on Thursday kicked off a process for determining which items the public will be asked to weigh in on this fall.
A number of the usual suspects were on hand – including members of the Urban Transportation Commission as well as rail, bicycle lane and sidewalk advocates – to comment about the need for various projects. Several people also spoke about the idea of depressing I-35 below grade and eliminating the upper deck on the highway.
UTC Commissioner J.D. Gins said that the city needs to have a full conversation about all options, “from sidewalks to bikes to trains.” Gins said he has heard a lot of talk about whether an urban rail item could pass, given the failure of the rail bond in 2014. But just because it failed last time does not mean it could not pass in the future, he said.
Council Member Greg Casar released the following statement: “Today, Council voted to kick off a conversation about putting transportation projects on the ballot in November. If there is a transportation bond this year, I believe we need to support transit with our limited dollars.
“Transportation is about much more than roads – especially in a growing city like ours,” he continued. “I’m prepared to advocate strongly for progressive mobility investments – such as funding our most needed sidewalks, expanding bicycle lanes, supporting our bus system and even kicking off urban rail in Austin for the first time.
“Austin needs a real and complete transit system, and Austinites deserve the opportunity to support transit at the ballot box,” Casar concluded.
Council Member Ora Houston said she wanted input from people who had not participated in previous conversations about transportation bonds, especially constituents from neighborhoods, such as those in her District 1, who do not usually express themselves about transportation needs. Council Member Sheri Gallo said she also would like to have more input from neighborhood associations that have not participated in transportation conversations in the past.
Council agreed to add a clause asking staff to gather input from more neighborhoods, but Assistant City Manager Robert Goode warned that staff would not be able to reach every neighborhood association. Council Member Ann Kitchen, who chairs the Mobility Committee, told her colleagues that staff would count on them to point out which groups and individuals within the district to contact.
Various commissions, including both the Planning and the Zoning and Platting commissions as well as bond and transportation committees, will be asked to work on the issue. Kitchen indicated that they would work toward a public hearing on the matter in June.
None of the speakers advocated for increased highway lanes, except tangentially. Council Member Don Zimmerman, with a second from Council Member Ellen Troxclair, tried to eliminate references to bicycle and pedestrian improvements within the resolution to start the process. That amendment failed with just their two votes.
The resolution passed on a vote of 9-0-1, with Mayor Steve Adler off the dais and Zimmerman abstaining.
Referencing the 2010 bond election, Zimmerman said, “When the information went out to voters and had pictures of cars stuck in traffic … people would look at that, and they would think, oh, they’re going to do something about mobility and getting our congestion problems solved. But then it turned out the biggest spending item of the 90 million (dollars) was the concrete boardwalk out into the lake,” he said, adding that credibility has been a big problem in the city.
Zimmerman also noted that Austin is still the only large city without a highway loop around it. What he did not say is that the idea has been rejected by Austin planners because of its impact on the urban core and increased sprawl.