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Austin's Budget Proposal Puts More Money Toward Transportation, But Advocates Question Priorities

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019-2020 includes more than $500 million for transportation-related items, including projects aimed at improving infrastructure and reducing congestion.

“We are all aware of the challenges Austin faces in regard to mobility,” Cronk said when he announced the proposed budget Monday. “We have again targeted these dollars to spur improvement in ensuring the accessibility and equity of multimodal transportation choices.”

The proposal includes $50 million in capital spending for the Public Works Department to upgrade streets, bridges and sidewalks. The Austin Transportation Department would get $3.2 million for bicycle safety and bikeway improvements in several corridors, in addition to other projects designed to increase mobility and safety on roads like East 51st Street. 

The transportation department would also receive funding for engineering projects to reduce congestion and improve signal timing.

But some advocates feel the city is still falling short on its goals to upgrade sidewalks and install more bikeways.

For instance, the city’s Sidewalk Master Plan calls for spending $15 million to make sidewalks ADA compliant, but the proposed budget would spend only $10.8 million. There are plans to gradually increase the investment over the next several years, however, according to the budget document.

“Lacking safe sidewalks and safe bike lanes makes it worse for everyone, including if you’re driving in a car,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, chairman of Austin’s Pedestrian Advisory Council and executive director of the policy nonprofit Farm and City. “So lagging on these investments, where we already have a good plan and we have a very intense priority system on how to allocate the money, it seems like a big mistake.”

Katie Deolloz, former executive director of Bike Austin, said she plans to tell the City Council during its meeting this week that city leaders need to make safety for pedestrians and cyclists a bigger priority.

“A lot of people talk about the concept of cost of infrastructure on the front end in terms of millions of dollars,” said Deolloz, founder of the company Rehumanize Mobility. "But I think that pales in comparison to the amount of cost on the back end, in terms of injuries.”

Overall, the budget proposal contains $259.1 million in operating spending and another $312.3 million in capital spending. That includes money for improvements at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, including a terminal expansion project and a new parking garage and administrative building.

The council will hold public hearings about the budget on Aug. 22 and Aug. 28, and is expected to vote on a final version Sept. 10.

Got a tip? Email Samuel King at Follow him @SamuelKingNews.

Samuel King covers transportation and mobility for KUT News.