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CAMPO approves 25-year plan, inc. S.H. 130
Critique by Roger Baker, 6-13-00
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Roger Baker's other articles 

There was a key roadway meeting last night when CAMPO met, with key decisions made. As I see it, TxDOT and the land speculation/road lobby, with the help of Mayor Kirk Watson, won big last night -- won big on both the CAMPO plan and SH 130, despite strong resistance from many environmental and transportation reform groups who signed up to speak in numbers that dominated public input at the CAMPO meeting.
 
The CAMPO PAC passed the CAMPO plan with a few revisions referred to in the Statesman today, but the reporter (Kelly Daniels) left early and did not catch the final close vote following long and impassioned debate on SH 130 that led to the decision to let TxDOT do what it wants on the alignment, with the argument on TxDOT's part that the western alignment would be more profitable in toll revenue.
 
To put the matter in perspective, Round Rock and Travis County and Austin had all, before last Feb., voted for SH 130 to go on the eastern alignment opposed by TxDOT, but without binding effect. The vote to put SH 130 on the fast track by putting it in the three year TIP last night was also effectively an any-alignment vote.
 
But Texas FHWA coordinator Dan Reagan (the man in charge of the federal road pork in Texas, more or less) has given interpretation of federal law that would discourage the local MPO from pre-selecting a SH 130 right of way based on such considerations as community values and effect on community cohesion. Legal testimony presented by Travis county last night is that it would be legal for CAMPO to do so but the response was, more or less, that this would not make Reagan and the feds happy. To fill out the picture a bit more, Sen. Phil Gramm has very publicly endorsed SH 130. (I interpret this to mean that the feds know enough to keep the Senator happy by putting his spin on federal law. Reagan was quoted a few days ago as having said that if SH 130 continues to be controversial, it might not get funded, in what I interpret as an apparent top-down attempt to quell controversy on a "needed" road).
 
The Turnpike Authority did a study cited in its Nov 9, 1999 minutes that indicated that the effect of putting the road on the western alignment would be to increase long range economic development along the alignment corridor by about $19 billion dollars. I brought this fact up in my comments last night and then asked if anyone had heard of or seen this study, accepted by the Turnpike Authority. Only Dawnna Dukes said she had. (I suspect this study, by an outfit called Insight Research Corporation, MAY have been contrived by the TTA to convince bond investors that issuing bonds for a future SH 130 toll road is as economically solid as the rock of Gibralter).
 
But surely this $19 billion worth of new development affecting East Austin should be of more than trivial concern to the mayor and the city council. Will any of the current low-income residents of East Austin still be able to live there when such a tidal wave of investment rolls in. Will low income and minority folks be able to survive the skyrocketing property taxes from a highway triggered stripmall bidding war and will the nice proceeds still be enough to buy another modest place inside Austin?
 
I think the SH 130 vote was 11 to 10 to defeat the resolution to specify an eastern alignment for the road, with the mayor and Barrientos in the majority saying that we should let TxDOT and the FHWA rather than CAMPO decide on the alignment. Willie Lewis and Gus and Spellman were in the minority in resupporting the earlier endorsement of the council for the presumably less destructive eastern alignment (but this road remains a monument to bad planning on either alignment, IMHO).
 
When the TTA was asked why putting SH 130 in the TIP immediately was such an emergency, TTA director Phillip Russell said, incredibly that in order to be eligible for some federal loan program in early July, it had to be approved now; a fact never revealed before, so far as I know. But this federal loan opportunity before all the environmental studies are complete and the revenue studies either; all the studies done so far have assumed that SH 130 would be free and not a toll road! What a way to plan Austin's future; like the possibility of federal road pork in an area with bad air should reign supreme among planning considerations.
 
But why should the mayor flake on SH 130 when he is the swing vote on this key road/sprawl commuter toll road issue?
 
Certainly the rumor is widespread that Watson wants to run for state office, either as Ltd gov or as Attorney General. You certainly don't rise as a Democrat in a state politics in a conservative state run by Republicans by becoming known as a crusading environmentalist visionary. You talk green and then make plans to get a few city workers on buses, all the whiles cutting deals that favor land development interests profiting off the Austin high tech boom, like huge cash advance to the LCRA for future water for future development.
 
Watson announced yesterday that he is proposing a yet-fuzzy-in-details $150 million bond package for regional transportation on the light rail ballot this November. Presumably this huge bond package, seemingly being shaped by the Mayor as his vision with great advance news fanfare, could include a blank check for SH 130 ROW -- on EITHER alignment of SH 130! (which will be built without sidewalks or bike lanes, BTW).
 
But the way it looks to me is that SH 130 is a sick chicken, doomed to be controversial forever, despite Watson's help in getting it built on whatever alignment TxDOT wants. But it will reportedly take at least seven years to build, by which time I am personally convinced it will be seen as a huge bond-debt ridden mistake, due to the approaching end of cheap energy on which suburban sprawl depends.




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