San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

May 31st, 2010
CAMPO approves 2035 plan with $1.138 billion in Hays County projects

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Hays County Judge Liz Sumter, left, and Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, right. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) approved a 25-year plan last week calling for $26.777 billion in federal, state, and local funds for transportation projects in Hays, Travis, Williamson Counties.

San Marcos is in for about $514.7 million of those projects, according to City of San Marcos Public Information Specialist Kristy Stark. The total projected cost for projects in Hays County comes to $1.138 billion. CAMPO, which dispenses millions in federal and state dollars each year, offered cities and counties the opportunity to submit projects for inclusion in the plan, as long as those projects could be funded with local dollars. A project will not get federal funding unless it is included in the plan. Though  CAMPO doesn’t anticipate any increase in federal funding in the next 25 years, projects may receive such funding if more dollars become available.

Among the city projects in the plan are segments of the proposed Craddock Avenue extension, opposed by the San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF) and the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance (SMGA). The four-lane Craddock Avenue extension is planned from RR 12, across Lime Kiln Road to Post Road, and from there to Interstate-35. SMRF and SMGA campaigned for the roadway to be removed from the CAMPO 2035 plan during the public comment phase before adoption. The Craddock Avenue extension is estimated to cost $93.6 million and be needed between 2025 and 2035. Stark said no money has been earmarked for the proposed roadway, which, she said, would not be built unless necessitated by development patterns in the area.

Opponents of the Craddock Avenue extension say it will encourage too much development in an area where more construction and vehicular traffic may pollute Spring Lake, source of the San Marcos River. Proponents of the roadway say it will lessen traffic on Lime Kiln Road and Post Road, and mitigate health and safety problems arising from the flooding at two low water crossings on Lime Kiln Road. Proponents of the Craddock Avenue extension near Lime Kiln Road say reconstruction of the low water crossings would create more environmental harm than constructing the disputed roadway, while opponents of the road say otherwise.

Included in the CAMPO 2035 plan is a policy statement indicating the organization’s desire to reduce greenhouse gases. The policy statement was removed months ago from the draft version of the plan by a committee, but was reinstated by the CAMPO board before the plan’s adoption last week.

The new CAMPO map features, for the first time, a Centers Map, which is “intended to serve as an aspirational guide for where transportation investments and planning resources could be targeted to encourage development of a connected regional network of high density, mixed use activity centers that would allow us to get more out of our transportation system and improve regional quality of life,” in the language of the CAMPO 2035 plan.

Under the 2035 plan, projects may receive more priority for funding is they’re designed to stimulate walkable environments and lessen urban sprawl.

“I think if there are two projects that are equally needed, I do believe that if one has an enhanced hike and bike trail on it, it probably would be the tipping point,” said Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley), who, until last week, represented the county on the CAMPO board.

CAMPO Executive Director Joe Cantalupo said a city interested in smart zoning might receive some money from CAMPO to fund, for example, a series of downtown transit stops, or to construct a pedestrian system and arterial improvement to support the smart code.

Said Cantalupo, “Certainly, if a local government is interested in doing some sort of smart development or smart codes or sustainable development, what we’re doing is saying, ‘This is how the transportation system can help.’ We can’t force them to take the land use path, but if they do take the land use transportation path, we can support with some additional planning and maybe some resources to get started.”

Also included in the CAMPO 2035 plan is a controversial road opposed by the Travis County Commissioners Court but championed by most Hays County commissioners. SH 45 Southwest, estimated to cost $99 million, would connect MoPac Expressway in Austin to FM 1626 northwest of Buda and allow commuters to bypass the residential areas on Brodie Lane. The road is opposed by environmental organizations, such as the Save Our Springs Alliance, which fears more development over the Barton Springs portion of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) supports SH 45 Southwest. However, Sumter and Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) cast the lone votes on May 18 against a resolution in support of the highway, which CAMPO has planned as a toll road to be built in 2020 and opened in 2022. Sumter joined a 17-2 majority in voting for the CAMPO 2035 plan.

Last week, Hays County commissioners voted unanimously to replace Sumter on the board with Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley). Sumter will step down from the court at the start of next year after losing her re-election bid to Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) in the Democratic primary. Though Conley’s appointment was placed on the agenda by Conley and Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos), Sumter made the motion to appoint Conley, a move for which her colleagues offered praise.

In the days before the CAMPO plan’s adoption, Hays County submitted nine projects on behalf of itself and four for the City of Kyle, though CAMPO staff requested locally-funded projects in November-December.

“I don’t think there was anything deliberate about them not submitting,” said CAMPO Principle Planner Stevie Greathouse. “I think it was more happenstance, and perhaps all of us bear some responsibility for it. Maybe we should have given specific calls to all the public works directors to make sure they’d gotten the requests.”

The submissions for Hays County and Kyle are estimated to cost $473 million, and their combined debt capacity between 2010 and 2035 is estimated to be $620.7 million. Buda submitted nine locally-funded projects, totaling $149.3 million. Buda did not offer an estimate of its bonding capacity to CAMPO, but projected $42.9 million in developer contributions to the projects it submitted.

“The 2030 plan had a huge list of projects,” Greathouse said. “We were pretty liberal with how we made our financial assumptions for what the region could afford under that plan. And new federal rules on how we do financial constraint have kind of really constrained the ability to be that optimistic in what you can fund. And so, for this plan, we had to make some serious decisions on how to spend limited federal and state dollars on projects. So, we went through a really extensive prioritization process … being pretty conservative on the expensive assumptions about project cost and conservative about revenues, so that ended up with a pretty short list of projects that didn’t fund every state system project that had been in the 2030 plan, and didn’t fund every arterial project that had been in the 2030 plan.”

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