A Tool for Every
Watson's transportation plans] by Robert Bryce,
Chronicle, June 16,
Mayor Kirk Watson finally
showed everyone his tool box. And it's bulging.
For several months, Watson has
driven around questions about the city's transportation problems
by discussing the need for different "tools in our tool box." In a
speech on Monday, Watson rolled out a Sears-catalog-like list of
implements that include light rail, more roads, better traffic
light synchronization, commuter rail, a light rail link to the new
airport, a stronger Capital
Area Metropolitan Planning
and $150million in bonds to help pay for it all.
Watson's 70-minute-long speech
began with a recitation of the region's transportation woes and a
short lecture about the need for Austin's political groups to work
together. He advocated building SH
130 to alleviate
crowding on I-35, which he called "a disaster," but demanded
consensus be built among the city's factions. The Left has to
"quit blaming cars" for every environmental malady, and the right
must "get over the idea that every road is a quality-of-life
enhancement," said Watson.
In addition to announcing his
support for the various transportation projects, Watson proposed
expanding CAMPO to include all of Hays and Williamson counties,
and giving the group more power to make decisions about regional
transit projects. In particular, he wants the group to evaluate
each project in terms of its ability to relieve congestion,
increase mobility, and reduce air pollution.
While complimenting the
improvements being made at Capital Metro, Watson also wants the
agency to share some of its revenue on roads and other transit
projects. Watson didn't specify how much money the agency should
surrender. Nor would he say whether its funding should be used to
support commuter rail between Austin and San Antonio. The mayor
also insisted that his $150 million bond package, which would be
allocated in $15 million chunks over 10 years, would not place a
heavy burden on citizens or the city's creditworthiness. The new
bonds would cost the average homeowner about $1 a month, he
The luncheon speech, sponsored
by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, was another crafty
political move by Watson. By favoring virtually all of the city's
potential transit projects, Watson risks nothing. He also
bulldozed himself firmly into the pragmatic middle of the
political spectrum. Toward that end, Watson wasn't subtle in his
efforts to sideswipe Reclaim Our Allocated Dollars, an anti-light
rail group. The problems of light rail, said Watson, "pale in
comparison to the extreme roadway scheme some are proposing." ROAD
advocates a citywide road package, including an east-west
expressway and an outer dispersal loop. The exact costs of the
group's road plans are unknown, but are likely several times
higher than the $1 billion figure ROAD is using.
After the speech, Jim Skaggs,
the president of ROAD, said he liked most of Watson's proposals,
including his support for SH 130, but added that the mayor was
"just parroting Cap Metro" when it came to light rail. Skaggs said
he doesn't believe that Austin should "throw money at projects
that won't work and that's light rail."
Watson's speech brought an
adulatory press release from Get Around Austin, the group of
high-tech execs pushing light rail. The group has begun spending
more money and is readying a series of TV ads to be broadcast
later this year. Meanwhile, the first contribution and expense
reports for the pro- and anti-light rail groups will come out in
early July --about when the GACC's analysis of light rail will be
complete. Whether or not GACC supports the plan may help determine
just how big Watson's toolbox gets.
I've tried without success to get local groups to add their events to this calendar (Bike Texas, the Yellow Bike Project, City's Bicycle Program, Bike Austin, etc.)
If you'd like to help edit the calendar, or at least add your group's events to it, then please let me know!
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