Tuesday, June 09, 2009

CAMPO's toll road 'stimulus' plan: Income taxes, gas taxes and toll taxes will be used to finance U.S. 290 Tollway

Stimulus transit plans OK'd

$29 million will go to projects including Texas 71 turn lane, I-35 overpass.

CAMPO toll road stimulis

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

Central Texas officials approved an additional $29 million in transportation projects Monday under the federal stimulus plan, including adding a center turn lane on a dangerous segment of Texas 71 west of Austin, building an overpass on Interstate 35 in Buda, and a variety of other minor road maintenance and improvement work.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board's approval will add the projects to $107 million in stimulus money for the area that the Texas Transportation Commission awarded three months ago, the bulk of it for the planned U.S. 290 tollway in Northeast Austin.

Capital Metro will get an additional $26.1 million in stimulus grants from the Federal Transit Administration, money that the agency intends to spend primarily to buy buses and add track for passing trains to its commuter rail line. And Central Texas will probably get more money in the next several months as state transportation commissioners decide how to divvy an additional half-billion dollars in stimulus money.

Overall, Texas will get about $2.25 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that President Barack Obama signed in February. The state transportation commission has to decide how to spend at least half of the stimulus money by the end of this month.

In March, it approved a $1.2 billion list of projects. Decisions on how to use an additional $500 million or so were left to local planning groups, such as CAMPO.

The 20-member body's vote Monday represented the final culling of about 250 projects submitted by area governments and the Texas Department of Transportation that would have cost more than $2 billion. Most of those projects fell off the list because they were not "shovel ready," that is, primed for construction in the next year or so. The final list had about three dozen projects.

The board accepted one project that involves no shovels, the Highway Emergency Response Operators program.

After TxDOT discovered a $1.1 billion accounting error in late 2007, it ordered its district offices to cut costs. In Austin, trims included the program through which a handful of workers in pickups patrolled major Austin highways to quickly assist disabled cars. TxDOT canceled the program in February 2008.

The board approved $1.4 million to reinstitute the program on the portion of I-35 in Austin that is within Travis County. The money will keep trucks on I-35 for 11 hours a day, five days a week for the next two years.

On Monday, the board also approved building an overpass at Cement Plant Road on I-35 in Buda and financed a proposed transit center for commuters in downtown Round Rock.

CAMPO stimulus highlights

$7.3 million: Add overpass on Interstate 35 in Buda

$7.1 million: Add center turn lane, widen outer lane for RM 1431 in Cedar Park

$3.2 million:Add center turn lane, widen shoulders for Texas 71 west of Bee Creek Road

$3.1 million:Add traffic signals to 20 Austin intersections; resurface various Austin streets

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