TravCo committee recommends $144 million 2017 bond election

Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty discusses  a bond recommendation during a recent Travis County Commissioners Court meeting.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty discusses a bond recommendation during a recent Travis County Commissioners Court meeting.

Travis County Commissioners Court discussed a recommended list of projects for a proposed bond issue in November that included the following western Travis County improvements: Bee Creek Sports Complex, Westminster Glen sidewalks, Hamilton Pool Road safety, Bullick Hollow Road at FM 2769 roadway capacity, Pedernales Canyon Trail at Lick Creek drainage stream crossing, Great Divide at Little Barton Creek drainage stream crossing (engineering only) and Phase 2 of the Arkansas Bend Park.[/caption]

Following today's presentation by the 2017 Citizens Bond Advisory Committee, Travis County commissioners will decide Aug. 8 whether to approve a $144 million bond referendum that will address the county's transportation, park and roadway issues. The tally is in addition to a $90,555,309 recommended annual appropriation from certificates of obligation that does not need to be put to the voters in November.

The 15-member court-appointed committee convened in 24 open forum meetings before collaborating with community members in six public outreach meetings held in June. Based on community input, the committee put together a proposal of its top priority projects to address roadway capacity; pedestrian, bicycle, roadway and bridge safety; parks; and drainage issues.

Committee Chairman Ron Wattinger and Vice Chairman John Langmore presented the final list of proposed projects to commissioners today.

The committee viewed the bond package as primarily addressing the needs of Travis County's unincorporated areas that are not within any municipal city limits. The committee also aimed to achieve some level of equity between the four precincts while acknowledging most of Precinct 2 is within the city limits of Austin, and Precinct 4 has been historically underserved with respect to infrastructure investment.

"There is a large investment on the eastern side of the county with respect to transportation projects," Langmore said. "I think it was based on what people of eastern Travis County had to say. We also 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, but I feel strongly that investment is justified."

Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion, whose precinct covers a portion of the east side of the county, echoed a similar sentiment about the need for resources in that portion of the county.

"We support addressing safety concerns that relate to transportation to schools [and] evacuation from communities that were built in the flood plain, with a special emphasis on those routes where people have already been killed," Travillion said.

The original list of projects was estimated at about $1.1 billion. With community input and safety priority criteria, the committee narrowed the list down to $144 million.

Projects recommended for Lake Travis/Westlake

Although the eastern section of the county received the bulk of the improvements in the recommended proposal, western Travis County was awarded about 30 percent of the proposed projects.

Funding totaling $21.2 million to construct a Bee Creek Sports Complex was included in the bond recommendation, as well as drainage storm crossing improvements at Pedernales Canyon Trail and Lick Creek in the amount of $1,591,900 and engineering for a drainage storm crossing at Great Divide and Little Barton Creek in the amount of $766,600. Phase 2 of the Arkansas Bend Park was recommended at a projected cost of $5.25 million.

Transportation projects recommended for the Lake Travis and Westlake areas include $1.1 million to improve roadway capacity for Bullick Hollow Road at FM 2769 and $1,729,830 to add sidewalks in the Westminster Glen neighborhood. Funding for improvements to Hamilton Pool Road was reduced to $4.6 million—or less than half of what was originally requested—to aid the most acute problems on the roadway, including adding some left-turn lanes.

“With respect to Hamilton Pool Road, we tried to strike a balance on doing some improvements on the safety of the roadway because there, in fact, have been some deaths there,” Langmore said. “But, at the same time trying to respect the will of those people [who] said that section of Hamilton Pool Road is beautiful in some part because of the current condition of the roadway itself. And we respect that and understand it.”

However, Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty challenged the committee on its exclusion of a project that would complete the Reimers-Peacock Road from West Hwy. 71 to Hamilton Pool Road. Reimers-Peacock has the potential to relieve traffic from Hamilton Pool Road, a two-lane, shoulderless road without turn lanes, he said.

A Lake Travis ISD middle school is targeted for the area.

“In the foreseeable future, I don’t see a lack of growth [within the LTISD boundaries],” Daugherty said. “How do you not jump out in front of this stuff?”

Langmore confirmed that, if funding for the Reimers-Peacock Road project was not included in the November bond election, the issue would not be revisited for another four years. Langmore said he considered the Reimers-Peacock Road area would be developed at a later date, but the needs of eastern Travis County residents are more timely.

“There are parts of eastern Travis County that are straining under existing growth where it is right now—and they don’t have the access they need,” Langmore said. “In my mind, you would be planning for some future period that hasn't yet happened if you invested in Reimers-Peacock [Road] versus bringing eastern Travis County up to where it needs to be. Or even addressing some of the more immediate needs in western Travis County, like some of the acute improvements to Hamilton Pool Road.”

Major components of recommended bond issue

The major projects recommended to be incorporated into the potential November bond issue include $18 million for bicycle safety improvements, $57 million for parks, $7 million for pedestrian safety improvements and $32 million for road capacity improvements.

Judge Sarah Eckhardt said she supported the bond as it was presented Tuesday and was impressed with the criteria committee members set for accomplishing the safety concerns and needs of the county.

"I think it is an extremely well-thought-out plan, and I am over the moon grateful that they broke the mold with this [recommendation]," Eckhardt said of the committee's recommendation to not split the bond funding evenly across all four precincts.

The $144 million bond includes a 10 percent allowance built in for project management costs and $4 million for unanticipated expenses.

The bond would also not affect the tax rate.

A public hearing is scheduled for July 25 on the final list of proposed projects.