by CALEB PRITCHARD
AUSTIN — A beleaguered plan to build a pack of new park-and-rides across the Austin metropolitan area finally caught a break last week.
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization voted overwhelmingly on Jan. 9 to formally approve an agreement with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority on a collaboration to plan, pay for and build new transit-oriented parking lots along the CTRMA’s toll roads.
Of the 15 members present, only Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea voted against the plan, citing her concerns over the locations of several of the proposed park-and-ride sites.
CAMPO’s ratification of the deal comes just under six months after the CTRMA board of directors approved its end of the bargain back in July. However, last month the plan hit a snag over funding at the commissioners courts in both Travis and Williamson counties.
The CTRMA has proposed that the two counties, along with the city of Austin, each forfeit their shares of federal bond allocations, something that Williamson County Commissioner (and CAMPO board member) Cynthia Long opposed. County Judge Dan Gattis postponed action on the item.
A week later, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt also postponed her court’s decision to hand over the bond allocations after three separate commissioners, including Shea, raised objections.
While the CTRMA’s financing plan remains in limbo (the Travis County Commissioners Court will take up the item again on Tuesday), the overall initiative continues to move forward thanks to CAMPO’s vote on Monday night.
Per the agreement, one of CAMPO’s roles is to fund a regional park-and-ride study. The estimated cost of that effort is between $600,000-$700,000.
Despite the plan’s stated goal of encouraging more center-city workers to use public transit for at least part of their daily commutes, some environmental activists – including Shea – still aren’t on board with it.
Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, told the board on Monday that the complex plan involved so many different bureaucracies that it’s akin to “the left and right hand not matching up.” Specifically, he noted that the CTRMA, with its financing plan, seemed to be charging forward even as CAMPO was still considering whether to even fund the regional study.
“I would suggest that you have the tail wagging the dog here,” said Bunch.
He also echoed complaints that Shea raised in December about the CTRMA’s proposed location of the park-and-rides. Four of the eight sites sit on top of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, Bunch said.
When Bunch finished his remarks, Shea took the baton and registered once again her concerns about those four sites.
“As one of my colleagues said, he didn’t have a sense that there was a burning desire by people who live in that area to get out of their Range Rovers and get into buses,” she said.
Long Range Planning Director Javier Argüello was at the meeting and spoke to Shea’s concerns. He began by telling her that Capital Metro is looking at a larger set of park-and-ride locations across the region that could be part of the larger tripartite initiative with CAMPO and the CTRMA. He then noted that the eight locations along roads with managed toll lanes will have enhanced service, because express buses use those lanes for free.
Citing a letter from CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein to Mayor Steve Adler requesting a variance for the proposed park-and-ride sites against the requirements of the Save Our Springs ordinance, Shea said she still was not ready to vote on the item, “even though I’m very supportive of us moving forward on park-and-rides.”
Ready or not, that vote came and Shea was alone in her opposition.
CALEB PRITCHARD reports for the Austin Monitor where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.
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