Central Texas planning board debates criteria, projects recommended for $400M in transportation funding

Several area elected officials raised concerns Monday night over how a Central Texas agency is ranking and recommending funding transportation projects from a $400 million pot of state and federal dollars.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board—comprising elected officials from jurisdictions in Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties—discussed April 9 a draft list of projects proposed to be included in the 2019-22 Transportation Improvement Program. This plan includes regionally significant projects and those receiving federal funds that will start construction in those years.

Some board members questioned the new scoring criteria adopted last November and others raised concerns about why some projects were not recommended.

“We were innovating with this process to make it more constructive toward the region,” Austin City Council Member Alison Alter said. “It would be a useful project to go back and make sure it matches up with the plan.”

Alter said she would like to see a category that would fund capital renewal projects, or those that maintain roads and bridges.

CAMPO received 140 project submissions totaling $1.5 billion from jurisdictions in its six-county region in Central Texas: Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson.

Staffers scored and ranked projects using a new set of criteria adopted by the board in November. However, four projects under the travel demand management section—projects that would reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips during peaked hours—scored too well, even when testing with other data, CAMPO executive director Ashby Johnson said.

“We did not feel that we could make a recommendation to this body on that category,” he said. “We’re not saying that we don’t think the activities are worthwhile. We’re not making value statements about the category itself. We’re just saying the tool we have available to us to analyze the category is not a perfect tool and needs to be reworked.”

Staffers developed options for board members to determine how to allocate $1 million in unallocated funds, including supporting the regional travel demand managed program called Commute Solutions.

Andrew Hoekzema, director of regional services at the Capital Area Council on Governments, which oversees Commute Solutions, said the program helps people find other ways to commute, such as using a carpool, vanpool or transit; telecommuting; and working on a flexible schedule.

Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said he also has similar concerns to Alter regarding the criteria for scoring projects.

“My concern is about how do these projects fit together and if we’re just moving congestion around,” he said.

Staffers said a regional analysis will be done before the board approves the draft list in May.

Overall, Johnson said the process worked well and, if approved, 76 percent of the funding would go toward construction.

“One of [the] things we’ve been trying to overcome as a region is that we had a lot of projects that weren’t getting to letting and in some cases we were losing money to other parts of the state,” he said. “We feel much better about this recommended list than we have previous lists because we have checked readiness of the projects.”

Residents still have time to attend an open house to learn more about the projects and to submit feedback.

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By Amy Denney

Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.


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