Austin residents can give feedback in October on potential transportation improvements as part of Austin City Council’s effort to spend $21.8 million in discretionary transportation funds.
Council passed a resolution in June to determine how to distribute the so-called Quarter Cent Fund equitably among the council’s 10 geographic districts and citywide, said City Council Member Ann Kitchen, who represents District 5, which includes neighborhoods such as Cherry Creek, in Southwest Austin.
Council wants to use the Quarter Cent Fund to support low-cost projects that would help with congestion relief and other issues. Projects that enhance mobility, support public transportation or could expedite a critical mobility project are being considered.
“It’s not instead of the bigger issues, like MoPac and I-35; it’s just we need to do this at the same time,” said Kitchen, who is the chairwoman of the council’s Mobility Committee.
A town hall meeting will take place in District 5 on Oct. 10 at 10:00 a.m. at the Ann Richards School Cafeteria, 2206 Prather Lane, to gather feedback from residents on potential projects, Kitchen said. More engagement related to potential improvements will take place until mid-October, when a final list of projects is slated to be completed. Kitchen said ultimately council members recognized a need to solve immediate problems in all districts.
“If [a project] is always at the bottom of the list, then it doesn’t happen,” she said.
The fund’s creation stems from a light rail proposition that was defeated in 2000. Capital Metro, Austin’s regional public transportation provider, agreed in 2001 to share 25 percent of its annual revenue—money previously allocated toward light rail—with the city to fund transportation projects.
That deal meant Capital Metro would share a quarter-cent of each penny of revenue for a prescribed period of time with the city of Austin, and thus began the Quarter Cent program, said Todd Hemingson, Capital Metro vice president of strategic planning and development. A list of projects was developed as part of the program, he said.
The remaining balance of Quarter Cent funding was to be dedicated to urban rail operations, but since the urban rail initiative did not pass, it was determined that the funds should be redirected to existing infrastructure needs, according to city documents.
Projects and distribution
[polldaddy poll=9090607]Projects being considered for funding include efforts to improve traffic safety and school routes as well as mobility on critical arterials—high-traffic roads such as Brodie Lane and Manchaca Road, Kitchen said.
The city of Austin’s Transportation Department and Public Works Department have compiled information on “high-impact and low-cost” projects throughout Austin, and the next step is determining how to prioritize projects, said Annick Beaudet, manager of the ATD System Development Division.
“We’re really letting the data drive this process from a needs assessment standpoint,” she said.
Typically, ATD projects are funded by sources such as grants, general obligation bond funds, transportation fees, partnerships and CAMPO, she said.
“[We] have to be very strategic,” she said.
There is no timeline developed yet for how the Quarter Cent Fund will be spent, but the city will figure out a spending plan, which could span several years or begin sooner than that, according to Beaudet.
Speaking at a South Austin Neighborhood Alliance forum Aug. 25, Mayor Steve Adler said the city must avoid “a ward politics system.”
“We can’t get to a place in this city where we are taking sums of money and then dividing it up 10 ways and sending one-tenth of tenth of that money to each one of the districts. That is not a good way to govern. … That said, one of the important issues we have in this community is we haven’t paid the attention that we need to spend on maintaining the localized travel that we have in this city. [The Quarter Cent Fund’s usage] is going to be decided locally.”
District 3 Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria said safety is one factor he will consider when thinking about how to spend the Quarter Cent Fund.
“What I’m basically going to be looking at is staff’s recommendations [and analysis of] where we are having the most accidents,” he said.
Renteria said in District 3, the city could add a left-turn lane to the Oltorf Street and Montopolis Drive intersection, where crashes occur often. He said funds could be spent on sidewalks, but it would take a bond election to pay for sidewalks needed throughout Austin.
Gathering input, making plans
At press time city staff was developing a digital map so that residents can view potential projects, Kitchen said.
A prioritized list will go to the Mobility Committee at its Oct. 7 meeting, and after that it will go to the full council for approval, Kitchen said.
Bike paths and sidewalks could be good uses of the fund, Western Trails-area resident Meenah Hulsen said.
“Twenty-one million dollars is a lot of money—it sounds like it—but it really is not going to do much,” she said.
Hulsen said council should be focusing on transportation on a larger scale because that will help to solve other problems, including affordability and flooding in the Williamson Creek area as a result of runoff from roads.
Brian Whelan, a Tanglewood Forest-area resident, said he would like to see improvements in Southwest Austin bus system connectivity such as a Park & Ride facility south of Lady Bird Lake.
“I would love to be able to take Capital Metro to Southpark Meadows. ... I can’t because there is no Capital Metro service along Slaughter [Lane] going east [to] west,” he said.
Delia Garza, council member for District 2, which includes an area south of Stassney Lane, co-sponsored the resolution with Kitchen. She said Capital Metro faces challenges.
“It is hard to have an efficient bus system when there is so much sprawl in the city,” she said at the SANA forum.
Council Member Ellen Troxclair, who represents District 8 including Circle C and Oak Hill, said many area residents live too far from work to walk.
“One of my priorities has been and will continue to be to expand bus service in Southwest Austin,” she said.
Transportation can be examined from a supply and demand perspective, she said.
“You can either build enough roads so that there are no traffic jams, or you can reduce the demand and get as many people off the roads as possible. From the supply side of things we’re already well behind, and it’s not going to be fixed overnight,” she said.
Updated Sept. 24 at 1:28 p.m. to include the finalized location and time of the Oct. 10 town hall meeting in District 10.