by CALEB PRITCHARD
AUSTIN — The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization on Wednesday night approved a nearly $1 billion laundry list of transportation projects that are set to break ground over the next four years.
The 2017-2020 Transportation Improvement Program contains a total of 69 highway projects spread out across CAMPO’s six-county domain. Also folded into the program are 37 transit-related projects, including investments in Capital Metro’s MetroRail service and an implementation plan to bring public transit to Round Rock.
The total cost of all the projects together is just over $902.6 million. CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board approved the program in a 13-0-1 vote, with Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea abstaining.
Each of the projects on the short-term planning document were submitted to CAMPO from among its member jurisdictions. CAMPO staff then scored and scrubbed each project to ensure that it met the standards for receiving federal funds.
In August, the Texas Department of Transportation will vet TIPs from across the state for inclusion into its own statewide transportation improvement program. The state transportation improvement program will be scrutinized by the Federal Highway Administration in October. If approved, hundreds of millions of dollars will soon start gushing through the federal pipeline and into CAMPO’s watering bucket.
The organization is taking pains to point out that it won’t be using those funds to simply grow road projects. In a press release issued after Wednesday night’s vote, CAMPO spokeswoman Doise Miers said that 22 of the 69 highway projects are actually geared toward bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
At slightly under $38.5 million, the cost of those projects comprises just over 4 percent of the total amount of the program. Included in that list is a city of Austin item that would use approximately $2.5 million to purchase and install 15 pedestrian hybrid beacons and 18 accessible pedestrian signals across the city.
The program also includes $247 million for investments along Interstate 35, from Williamson County down to Hays County. An approximately $72.2 million chunk of that will cover the costs of ramp projects in Austin between U.S. 183 and U.S. 290.
Other items listed in the program appear to overlap with some projects identified in Mayor Steve Adler’s proposed $720 mobility bond. That includes increasing the number of lanes on a stretch of FM 969 between Decker Lane and Hunters Bend Road east of Texas 130. The cost of that project is estimated to be just over $29 million. Even though that stretch of FM 969 is in the city’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, it is part of one of the several key corridors targeted for investment in the mayor’s proposal.
Another notable sum included in the program is the $108.9 million to pay for the controversial State Highway 45 SW. Critics have long opposed that project, claiming that it is part of a clandestine effort to divert freeway traffic from Interstate 35 south of Austin to MoPac Boulevard.
One of SH 45 SW’s most vocal opponents has long been Travis County’s Shea, but on Wednesday night, she reserved her most outspoken complaints for another road that is only marked on the TIP for environmental assessment.
“We’ve ignored funding for Manchaca Road when that road has been ready to go,” Shea said. “I don’t understand why we wouldn’t address an obvious bottleneck. It meets the criteria on congestion; it meets the criteria on acquired right of way. Why is that not a priority?”
Shea said that Texas Department of Transportation officials had previously said that design plans for expansion on Manchaca Road were 90 percent complete, a fact that would mean all environmental assessments had already been completed.
“I think we’re to a point where it needs to be re-evaluated from an environmental perspective,” explained her fellow board member Terry McCoy, a TxDOT regional engineer. McCoy said that re-evaluations are necessary when design plans have sat on the shelf for two to three years.
After the vote, CAMPO Chairman Will Conley said that the approval of the TIP was one step in a larger cycle of regional planning.
“This is just a conclusion of a very long public process,” Conley said. “Now it will go through the state’s process and be adopted into their plan, and we’ll start with the next here shortly.”
CALEB PRITCHARD reports for the Austin Monitor where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Austin Monitor and the San Marcos Mercury.
COVER PHOTO by MATTHEW RUTLEDGE. MERCURY ILLUSTRATION by BRAD ROLLINS.