Ben Folds Five

The rise and breakup of the world's greatest piano pop band.

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Saving Electricity

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The Military Budget as Cookies

This excellent animation from TrueMajority shows in graphic detail (using Oreo cookies) how ridiculously, large the military budget is, and how we could solve many domestic problems with a modest 12% cut. A must-see. (watch it now)

2001 Road Bond Package

In late 2001 Travis County voters overwhelmingly voted to finance more roads with public money. Below are the arguments against the bonds presented prior to the election, preserved here for history. We regret that we failed to record or remember which organization sent it to us.


The Nov. 6th election includes four county bond proposals totaling $185 million, mostly for road-building to encourage suburban sprawl. We recommend a NO vote on all four proposals, as does the renowned SOS Alliance. PDF on bonds

General

The proposals would increase taxes, increase congestion and sprawl, and increase air and water pollution. A "no" vote now is the only way to challenge County Commissioners to formulate a new package that would be balanced and affordable, would protect neighborhoods and the environment, and would reduce&emdash;not increase&emdash;traffic congestion.

County Commissioners had initially framed a more affordable $80 million package so as to avoid a significant tax increase.  Then the Real Estate Council of Austin lobbied hard on behalf of developers members to more than double the package to $185 million, committing roughly 80% of the total to new roads in outlying areas outside the city limits -- roads which would funnel yet more traffic onto already overcrowded roads like Mopac and neighborhood streets. 

The tax increase -- $35 to $100 per year for most homeowners -- would come on top of a series of tax increases recently approved by the County, City, ACC and AISD that total more than $300 this year alone for the median Austin household.  These tax increases, along with the dramatic increase in housing costs over the last decade, are driving residents out of their homes and neighborhoods and worsening sprawl.

The proposed county road projects will increase traffic congestion

 RECA and county officials insist that the tax increase is justified in the name of reducing traffic congestion. Yet the real effect of the package would be to increase traffic congestion while providing welfare to developers.

 Sadly, polls show that even in educated communities like Austin many folks believe that building new roads reduces congestion.  In reality, new roads, especially in outlying areas, often increase congestion by feeding yet more commuters from farther out into the existing road grid.

 The last 20 years of roadbuilding in the Austin area shows that while we have been building roads at almost twice the rate of population growth, congestion has only increased.  That's because many of the roads we are building, including those in the county bond package, only facilitate longer commutes and more frequent driving trips.  Besides being enormously expensive, our roadbuilding binge is the primary cause of Austin's air and water pollution violations.  (For more details, see the companion article.)

  City taxpayers would pay the most, receive nothing in return

     As proposed, City taxpayers would suffer the most.  While roughly 85 percent of county taxes are collected within city limits, NONE of the projects to be funded are within the city limits of Travis County cities. A map of the projects paints a clear picture of the transfer of city tax receipts to outlying, largely undeveloped areas.  Many of the proposed projects have the specific purpose of feeding more commuters from new, far flung, suburban developments in Williamson County onto already overloaded roads within the City of Austin. 

By voting "no" county voters living inside Austin can demand that county taxes be distributed equitably so that city-dwellers benefit as well.  The time is long overdue to end this county practice of transferring tax dollars from city residents to suburban sprawl developers. 

 

Proposition 3 especially deserves a "no" vote

Proposition 3 would direct roughly $32 million to SH 45 North and $1 million to expansion of RM 1826 south of U.S. 290 West.  Also known as the Outer Loop, SH 45 North primarily runs through Williamson County and would serve Williamson County developers and commuters.  Taken together with the proposed link of north Mopac, SH 45 North would feed traffic from a broad swath of southern Williamson County onto Mopac.  In doing so it would dramatically increase pressure to expand Mopac and destroy neighborhoods through west andsouthwest Austin.   

 Unfortunately, our elected officials are pushing to fast-track SH 45 North with two misleading arguments: that SH 45 North is needed in the name of "regional cooperation" and that it will not add significant traffic to central Mopac.  The "regional cooperation" argument is now regularly used to justify policies that divert Austin tax receipts to projects that benefit other communities whose residents do not pay city taxes.. 

Thus the Real Estate Council and others have argued that "regional cooperation" dictates that tens of millions of Travis county and Capital Metro tax receipts&emdash;the vast majority of which are collected within Austin&emdash;must be diverted immediately to build the Mopac North and SH 45 North extensions, projects which primarily benefit Williamson county developers and commuters.

 Fearing that Travis voters would realize that extending Mopac north and connecting it to I-35 via SH 45 North would dramatically increase traffic on central and south Mopac, TxDOT recently claimed that a new study shows that these two projects would only increase traffic on central Mopac by one to three percent.   While such a claim lacks credibility on its face, the purported study can only be critiqued when it is released to the public.  So far the study has not been released.

Until there is an acceptable regional plan for the Mopac Corridor, one that reduces traffic and protects neighborhoods and the environment, Travis County voters should withhold funding for the SH 45 North project.

 The unrelated 1826 project lumped into Proposition 3 with SH 45 North is located just upstream of the Barton Springs recharge zone.  Expanding 1826 would encourage yet more urban development in the Barton Springs watershed and in rural areas of northern Hays counties.  In doing so it would increase traffic onto US 290 West and Mopac South and increase pollution in the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs. Thus both of the unrelated pieces of Proposition 3 should be opposed.

 

 Vote "no" on Proposition 1

Proposition 1 [totaling $57 million] includes a sweeping hodge-podge of road, drainage and bridge projects.  Some are very worthy projects.  But County Commissioners lumped 23 separate and unrelated projects into one ballot proposition.  A "no" vote is justified for the simple reason that elected officials should never aggregate numerous and unrelated projects into one up or down choice. 

The Proposition 1 grab bag includes $1.5 million to expand Travis Cook Road from the Southwest Parkway through Stratus Properties' land in the Barton Creek watershed.  This is a clear example of developer welfare.  If Stratus wants the road expanded, Stratus should pay for it.  Besides boosting development, the road is opposed by many Barton Creek and Lost Creek residents who are already suffering from excessive cut through traffic.  The expansion of Travis Cook Road alone would necessitate a "no" vote on Proposition 1. 

 

Propositions 2 and 4 more problematic

While we recommend a "no" vote across the board in order to encourage the County to prepare a better bond package that is equitable, affordable and addresses all of our community priorities&emdash;including affordable housing and environmental protection&emdash;some individual SOSA Board members disagreed on Propositions 2 and 4.  Proposition 2 provides $28.6 million for new county parks.  Proposition 4 would dedicate $66.2 million for acquisition of SH 130 east right-of-way.

While new parks are desirable, County officials refused requests to pledge that the new parks would be located within or adjacent to already developed areas so as not to be magnets for more suburban sprawl.  The park proposals were also not coordinated with either Austin or AISD so as to encourage joint use of ballfields and other facilities. 

 Some people support construction of SH 130 in order to encourage development to the east and to provide an eastern alternative to I-35.  These points are valid.  However, there are solid reasons to oppose SH 130 as currently configured, reasons which many voters are not aware of:  (a) the local share for right of way has increased from 10 percent to 50 percent and may increase to 100 percent; (b) TxDOT's own studies estimate that I-35 traffic will be reduced by only 7 percent; and (c) while initially promising to include a rail corridor, TxDOT's current designs do not provide for rail.

            If you support SH 130, we hope you will demand that local officials take action to limit the cost to local taxpayers and that there is room for rail. 




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