City of Austin on track to finish 2016 Mobility Bond in eight years

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For two decades residents of the Walnut Crossing and Milwood neighborhoods in North Austin have asked the city to add sidewalks on a street that offers access to a library, a public school, a community garden and youth ballfields.

“For our area it’s been a long time coming,” Milwood Neighborhood Association President Meg Davis said. “The residents have been asking for it, and there’s always been a very consistent goat path—you see the tread there.”

The city began constructing sidewalks and a shared-use path in November on Adelphi Lane between Amherst Drive and Waters Park Road near the Balcones Youth Sports fields. The project is one of hundreds being funded through the $720 million 2016 Mobility Bond, the city’s largest single proposition bond.

Two years in, the city on track with the bond’s eight-year timeline and still planning and designing many of the projects, including on nine corridors throughout the city that are receiving the bulk of the bond funds—$482 million—as well as local mobility projects, such as sidewalks and Safe Routes to School.

When she bought her home in 1999, Walnut Crossing resident Beth Lasker Arcotta said she thought the city was going to put in a bike path. Without a sidewalk she said residents have had to use the street or walk in the weeds, so the sidewalk will bring a huge benefit to residents who want to access the garden, library, ball fields and businesses along Parmer Lane.

“It’s just nice to see your neighbors walking and active,” Lasker Arcotta said.

Making progress

One measure the city uses to gauge progress on the bond is to compare how much the city expected to spend by now to how much has actually been spent. In fiscal year 2017-18, the city spent $39.2 million compared to a projected $36.5 million. Spending was on par with expectations in FY 2016-17 at
$11 million, and the city expects to spend $89.2 million in FY 2018-19.

“At the end of the day, though, the taxpayers and the community expect to see improvements on the ground, and ultimately that’s going to be the measure of how successful this program is,” Corridor Program Office Director Mike Trimble said.

Although the bulk of construction, will not begin until 2021, seeing projects on the ground is what many North Austin residents want.

Numerous residents raised concerns at a joint meeting with the city and Capital Metro in early December over reduced bus service in parts of North Austin as well as difficulties getting to bus stops—one of the metrics used in prioritizing some bond projects.

Mark Grayson, a 31-year resident of the North Austin Civic Association, said his neighborhood has a lot of barriers to residents walking to access transit, including along North Lamar Boulevard.

“It’s the large arteries that make for bad barriers,” he said.

Projects such as improvements along the nine corridors in the city aim to make these roads easier to use for all modes of travel.

“The end goal is to improve mobility, whether you walk, bike, use transit [or]drive; we want to make sure you’re able to use the corridors and move around the corridors a little more safely and a little more efficiently,” Trimble said.

Burnet Road and North Lamar are two of the nine corridors, and the city plans to finish preliminary engineering on the corridors in early 2019. Trimble said a lot of work is happening behind the scenes to verify locations of utilities and right of way and talk to residents about issues.

“When you’ve resolved a lot of those issues then you can say, ‘OK, contractor, go. It’s time to turn dirt,’” he said.

A local impact

About $137 million of the bond is going toward local mobility projects, such as new sidewalks, bikeways, urban trails, safer intersections, Safe Routes to School and better access to transit.

The city is still designing and planning many projects but to date has completed about 50 new sidewalk projects, 20 bikeways and four intersection safety projects. Another 80 sidewalk projects will be completed in FY2018-19, including new sidewalks and a shared-use path on Adelphi.

“[Adelphi] has a lot of different benefits …,” said Janae Spence, urban trails program manager for the Public Works Department. “When we looked at it, it would be a nice future urban trail and connect to the library, a school and garden. If you’re already going to be going in there, let’s upgrade this so we don’t have to do this in the future.”

Other completed projects include 17 Safe Routes to School projects identified as easier-to-implement and critical projects, said Amir Emamian, who is the Safe Routes to School program manager for the Public Works Department.

Phase 2 of the program involves completing walk audits in each council district with city and school district staffers and members of the community to identify a list of improvements for each council district. He said construction on Phase 2 projects likely will start this spring, including adding more sidewalks and pedestrian crossing signals.

“We’re actually a little bit ahead of where we thought we would be,” Emamian said.

The city is also ahead on its sidewalk program, said Diane Rice, sidewalk division program manager for public works. Construction will start next spring on new sidewalks and safer crossings on Rundberg Lane and Rutland Drive.

Effect on residents and businesses

As construction on more and more projects gets underway, many residents and businesses will be impacted.

To ensure the impacts are as minimal as possible, the city is gathering feedback from residents and business owners as part of the planning process for the nine corridors. In September, the city hosted a meeting for residents and business owners near Burnet Road.

Kristen Heaney, who owns Yard Bar on Burnet, said the city is proposing to add a median on Burnet in front of her business that would restrict where drivers could make left turns.

“I’m concerned about accessibility to our property,” she said. “Currently, folks can access our property pretty easily. What’s being proposed would block a direct left turn.”

Trimble said the city aims to be upfront with business owners about what disruptions might occur but also work with them to maintain access.

“Particularly [with]the corridor program, we’re anticipating a lot of the construction to occur in a very small window,” he said. “To have construction happening on nine corridors in three years, we’re going to have to do a very good job sequencing that work, trying to get in and out as quickly as possible to get that work completed because we want to minimize the impacts.”

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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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