Travis County bond may add to regional transportation, drainage projects

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Travis County voters will head to the polls in November to weigh the need for improvement projects in a nearly $185 million bond package.

That total does not include $94.9 million in appropriations for locally funded county projects that do not require voter approval. The combined allocation of $279.8 million would fund specific projects to help the county’s transportation, park and roadway safety issues as well as project management costs, which account for roughly 10 percent of the total.

In Southwest Austin projects include improvements to the Onion Creek Greenway, six bicycle safety projects, drainage improvements, and roadway safety and capacity projects.

Creating the bond package

In February the county appointed a 15-member citizens bond advisory committee to identify the concerns of county constituents. Based on community input, the committee put together a proposal of its top-priority projects.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said she was pleased with the committee’s focus on safety and how it guided the committee in determining the county’s needs.

“The committee did something really unique,” Eckhardt said. “They defined safety for themselves, and they kept coming back to that safety definition. If it was a roadway that had a demonstrated history of collisions, they moved it to a safety project. If it was a flooding issue, they moved it to a safety project.”

The committee viewed the bond package as primarily addressing the needs of Travis County’s unincorporated areas that are not within any city’s limits. The committee also aimed to achieve some level of equity among the four precincts while acknowledging that most of Precinct 2, which covers a portion of Pflugerville and stretches through Wells Branch and over to Lake Travis, is within the city limits of Austin, and Precinct 1, which covers the eastern portion of the county from Del Valle all the way to Pflugerville, has been historically underserved.

Committee Vice Chairman John Langmore said his group tried to provide a fair balance among all four precincts but felt the majority of improvements should be concentrated on the east side of the county.

“We toured eastern Travis County extensively and saw great needs that exist out there and felt that it was time to make some changes that maybe should have been made a while back,” Langmore said.

Projects to improve safety and flooding in Sw Austin

A total of $93.4 million in bond funds is allocated toward countywide transportation improvements.

Precinct 4, which covers a portion of Southwest Austin and Onion Creek, is projected to receive over $46 million in bond funding for roadway safety projects, including drainage improvements.

Commissioner Margaret Gomez of Precinct 4 said her priority is the safety of residents during flooding season.

“Precinct 4 needs to address drainage and roads so people can drive in and out of their homes safely and school buses can get through without fear of getting stuck during floods,” Gomez said.

Gomez said she hopes solving the drainage issues upstream will help reduce flood risk in Onion Creek. Gomez hopes implementing roadway and drainage improvements, such as along Elroy Road, will help her finalize an emergency evacuation plan.

Precinct 3, which covers Southwest Austin as well as the Lake Travis and Westlake areas, is slated for over
$16 million in roadway safety and drainage improvements.

Roadway safety is important for southwestern Travis County residents, but there are other priorities in the area that could be addressed as well, Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said.

“Unfortunately we do have some areas that inhibit us from going across low water crossings [during floods]; one is Pedernales Canyon Trail, but there are not very many people [living]on that side of that roadway,” Daugherty said. “I want to look at things like that to determine if monies could be spent, in my opinion, more appropriately.”

The transportation bond improvement funds also include a total of $26.6 million in bicycle safety projects and another $31.7 million for roadway capacity projects, or improvements to roads that have a high accident rate. In Southwest Austin, $26 million will go toward the former and $12.9 million toward the latter.

Onion Creek residents will see an alleviation of traffic from the improvements to South Pleasant Valley Road, a county thoroughfare, but former homeowners association board member Kathy Pillmore said she is concerned about how the growth in the area will affect the roadway improvements.

Bella Fortuna is a mixed-use development that will include a 600-home subdivision with a commercial element on Bradshaw Road between FM 1327 and River Plantation Drive. Two charter schools accommodating 1,100 students will be housed on the Wayside Schools campus, slated to open on Bradshaw in fall 2018. Four other residential neighborhoods, including Onion Creek, abut and use Bradshaw as an ingress and egress to Slaughter Lane and FM 1327, which both have access to I-35.

“[Improvements to South Pleasant Valley Road] will help relieve some traffic over there,” Pillmore said. “[Bradshaw Road] is not a safe road anyway.”

Although the Onion Creek neighborhood will not see a major impact from bond package projects, she said residents understand the need for improvements in other parts of the county and hope to see Onion Creek improvement projects in the city of Austin’s potential bond.

The bond package also includes $91.5 million in park improvements.

In Southwest Austin, improvements totaling $10.6 million were proposed for the Onion Creek Greenway.

Call for the bond

The final list of projects was approved Aug. 8 by commissioners in a 4-1 vote, with Daugherty dissenting. Daugherty said his decision to vote against the project list was due to the lack of spending flexibility. On Aug. 15,  a bond election was called by commissioners in a 4-0 vote to take place Nov. 7. Daugherty was absent.

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