Tag Archives: austin affordable

A Possible Breakthrough for the City’s $14 Million Budget Surplus

By Bill Oakey – April 7, 2014

In the middle of the night, an idea came to me for the $14 million budget surplus…Transfer it to the Water Utility to help cover their severe revenue losses.This could help the City in several ways:

1. Protect ratepayers from high rate increases as an ironic “punishment” for water conservation.

2. Sustain or hopefully improve the Water Utility’s AA- bond rating from Fitch Rating Service.

Consider this quote from the Fitch Bond Rating Service dated June 3, 2013:

“INCREMENTAL DECLINE IN RATE AFFORDABILITY: The city’s water and electric utilities maintain autonomous rate-setting authority. However, AWU’s combined rates are somewhat high relative to income levels, and moderately-sized planned rate increases needed to boost financial performance could ultimately lead to rate fatigue.”

And this quote, especially the last clause in the last sentence:

RATING SENSITIVITY

“IMPROVED FINANCIAL METRICS: The continuation of AWU’s efforts to steadily improve its financial metrics will be critical to maintaining the current rating. Fitch considers AWU’s stated financial targets to be positive, particularly the improved reserve levels, and any deviation in achieving its financial forecast over the next few years will result in downward rating action.”

Here is a link to the full Fitch rating statement:

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20130613005835/en/Fitch-Rates-Austins-TX-611MM-Water-Wastewater#.U0KQrSe9KK0

The question now is whether transferring the money from the City’s General Fund to the Water Utility is doable.  It is perfectly legal to go the other way.  When the utility makes a profit, they routinely transfer part of it to the General Fund, just like Austin Energy does.

Stay tuned for updates on this important affordability development…

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AISD’s Financial Quagmire – Is This Their Perfect Storm?

By Bill Oakey

October 6, 2013

You have probably seen the news reports that AISD has lost student enrollment this year.  They lost around 1,200 students for a variety of reasons, most notably the lack of home affordability in Austin.  The median home price here is the highest of any major city in the state, at $227,600.  That figure is very misleading however, since so many central city neighborhoods haven’t seen home prices that low in about 20 years.

Where Have Urban Austin’s Children Gone?

District officials should have seen the enrollment drop coming, but instead their demographer predicted a 250 student enrollment increase.  Perhaps AISD bureaucrats should consider reading an Austin affordability blog.  The migration of families with children to the outskirts of Austin is nothing new.  We all witnessed the plans for closing Zilker Elementary and some other schools just two and a half years ago.  At that time, the Austin American-Statesman ran a captivating story entitled, “Where Have Urban Austin’s Children Gone?”

Neighborhood parents rose up to successfully protest the school closings, but the handwriting was on the wall.  Then there is the whole question of the reputation of Austin schools and where people choose to live in hopes of finding the highest quality schools.  Affordability plays a wicked role in that battle, since some of the most affordable homes are in sections of town with low student achievement. On top of that, there has been a growing trend of low-income families fleeing to the suburbs because of high inner-city housing costs and high property taxes. But increasingly, more and more middle class families are leaving for the same reasons. Austin is fast becoming a destination for luxury homeowners, with fancy condos and townhouses mixed in with oversized McMansions.

A Legacy of High Spending and Top-Heavy Administration

In my taxpayer advocacy days of the 1980’s, I ofter referred to AISD as the Austin Inefficient School District.  I clearly remember that they typically maintained the highest per student costs in 8 out of 11 categories among the largest districts in the state.  Just four years ago in 2009, I met with then superintendent Pat Forgione and a couple of the board members to discuss AISD’s property tax rates.  That year they called for a “tax ratification election,” which is a State sanctioned local option for school districts to ask voters for a supplemental property tax increase.  This brings the total annual increase above the normally allowed cap.

In my meeting with the superintendent, I was told that the tax increase was necessary to keep teacher salaries competitive.  And that if those salaries ever fell too far behind,  it would be nearly impossible to catch up, given that the State Legislature does not fund schools adequately.  The local tax increase option passed with no organized opposition.

Fast forward to 2013.  We are clearly not living in the same Austin anymore.  The voters’ surprising defeat of two out of four school bond propositions in the spring was not the first cost related AISD issue to hit the newspapers this year.  Back in January, the American-Statesman reported that the number of administrators with six-figure incomes has increased 63% in the last five years.  A large chunk of that occurred in a single year, when the number of six-figure bureaucrats jumped 25% between 2012 and 2013.  It’s as if AISD feels compelled to join the private sector in extending the ever widening gap between rank and file workers and the privileged executives at the top.

The Winds Gather for the Perfect Storm

AISD teachers and staff did receive a pay raise for the new 2014 fiscal year that began this month.  However, the raises are not permanent since the funds were drawn from reserves.  So, how can the district restore funds for teacher pay raises next year?  The answer is another tax increase election on top of whatever regular tax increase would come in the 2015 budget. Nothing much will be happening to spook taxpayers next fall, other than three overlapping bond proposals totaling at or above a billion dollars.

AISD faces a daunting financial quagmire in the coming years.  If student enrollment continues to decline, the revenue loss of $7,400 per student would trigger a confounding question.  What could they do abut it?  This year alone, the district stands to lose $8.6 million.  If high living costs and high taxes are driving families away, raising taxes even higher to cover their losses would only make the problem worse.

District Judge John Dietz, who presides over the highly complex Texas school finance lawsuit will resume the trial in January, based on new evidence.  The Legislature restored much of the school funding that had been cut in the 2011 legislative session.  The State has vowed to appeal any court decision that awards more money to the schools.  In fact, the school funding bill that passed in this year’s session was crafted precisely in a manner that would help win the appeal.

If AISD finds itself back to square one, with declining student enrollment and no local appetite for increasing property taxes, they could be headed for financial trouble.  This is not a good time for that to happen, especially since the recently elected school board ran in opposition to the management decisions and personality of Superintendent Maria Carstarphen.

We can only hope that the new board can muster the gumption to steer the district in a direction of leaner spending.  At the same time, they need to restore the confidence of parents that their children will receive a quality education, while fostering an administrative attitude that welcomes citizen input instead of arrogantly rejecting it.

Come and Relax In a Downtown Austin Hotel

By Bill Oakey

October 2, 2013

If you have friends or relatives who have not been to Austin lately, now would be a great time to invite them.  The Austin City Limits Festival runs for two weekends, beginning this Friday.

You should recommend a ten-day stay to your visitors.  The best downtown hotels are only charging $320.00 per night.  So, you could soak up some sun at the festival, which has very little shade, and relax in the hotel at night.  The room rate for the 10 night stay is only $3,200.00.

It is not too late to get a VIP pass for next weekend’s music fest.  This weekend is already sold out.  A VIP pass is only $1,050.00, so why not bring the entire family?  If you would rather enjoy platinum VIP passes, the kind folks at the festival will gladly accommodate you at 888-519-0382.  You will be pleased to know that I have already called to check on the pricing.  Platinum VIP passes are only $3,600.00 apiece.

To assist your friends and save them some time, I can advise you on the perks that come with each type of festival pass.  With the regular VIP pass, you get VIP parking, as long as you purchase a minimum of four passes, which comes to only $4,200.00.  The other perks include gourmet happy hours and air conditioned restrooms.

If you prefer the platinum VIP pass, you will enjoy flushable air conditioned restrooms, access to a VIP Lounge in a tent, plus on-site concierge service and highbrow seating.  A free shuttle from downtown is included, but parking is not mentioned in the offer.  These passes would be ideal for a family of four, since the total price would be only $14,400.00.

For your convenience, I have itemized the hotel and festival options below.  Keep in mind that single day festival tickets are not offered this year.  And since we’re talking about Austin, I assume that you would not be interested in any category below VIP status:

1. 10-Day Downtown Hotel Stay Plus 3 Day VIP Festival Pass

Single Person – Only $4,250.00

Couple – Only $5,300.00

Family of 4 With 2 Hotel Rooms – Only $10,600.00

2. 10-Day Downtown Hotel Stay Plus 3 Day Platinum VIP Festival Pass

Single Person – Only $6,800.00

Couple – Only $10,400.00

Family of 4 With 2 Hotel Rooms – Only $20,800.00

My sincere apologies for not getting this posting done soon enough for you to invite your friends to attend the festival for both weekends.  But you can ask them to mark their calendars for next year.  They can plan to bring a family of four to ACL Fest 2014, stay for 10 days and enjoy Platinum VIP passes for both weekends for only $32,000.00.  (Please be advised that this amount is based on 2013 rates and is subject to change).

Open Letter to Travis County Commissioners – Roads Alone Will Not Solve Problems in Precinct 4

By Bill Oakey

September 19, 2013

Amid the tumultuous debate this week over whether and how to fund road expansions in Southeast Travis County, a big question has been largely overlooked.  Will new roads address the broader concerns of the underserved, mostly Hispanic residents in Precinct 4?

Most of the discussion has centered around the hot button issue of whether the expansion of Kellam Road and Elroy Road stands as just another subsidy for the Circuit of the Americas racetrack.  This week, the Austin-American Statesman published two opinions suggesting exactly that.  Vance Facundo, an F1 fan whose social media forums draw 6,000 followers, raised several interesting questions.  He doubts whether the massive growth projections for the area will pan out, and even cited reasons why the crowds for upcoming F1 races may not be sufficient to warrant the large scale road expansions.

Then on Wednesday evening, the American-Statesman editorial board weighed in.  They declared that all other claims aside, rushing the roadwork though with an unorthodox approach that bypasses voters serves only the interests of the racetrack owners.

That brings us back to Tuesday’s Travis County Commissioners Court meeting and the emotional comments by numerous speakers.  One that stands out in my mind came from Brigid Shea, who is running for a seat on the Court next year.  She spoke directly to the needs of the residents of Precinct 4, many of whom live below the poverty line.  Using an earlier cost estimate for the roads of $25 million, she listed several social service program items and numbers of potential affordable housing units that could be obtained for that sum of money.

This afternoon, seeking to put all of the issues into perspective, I sent the following message to the Travis County Commissioners:

Dear County Commissioners:

I fully understand the difficult challenges you are facing with the Southeast roadway expansion issue.  My sense from watching Tuesday’s discussion is that most of you prefer a shared approach with other funding partners.  At the same time, Commissioners Gomez and Davis are justifiably concerned about the divide that has kept the underserved population in Precinct 4 waiting too long for services that are overdue.

Let me suggest that the shared funding approach for the roads will help make more money available to serve those needs.  It will also reduce or eliminate the public perception that the roads are just a subsidy for COTA. Like it or not, public perception carries over into election campaigns.  On that battlefront, reason and sound policy give way to negative energy.

The Court would do well to tap into the community voices across boundary lines who know and care about best practices for underserved populations.  We need to address job training, affordable housing, and post high school opportunities for the folks who need them.  No one understands that better than the many businesses, large and small, who need a well-trained and educated workforce.

So, please take this opportunity, while the subject of needs in Precinct 4 is in the air, to address the broader issues as well as the roads.  The more productive and successful we can be across the divide, the better chance we will have to eliminate it someday.

(Ladies and) Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

By Bill Oakey

September 17, 2013

My second beer tonight came from one of those sampler packs, and unfortunately, it wasn’t very good.  But at least I got a chance to wind down from one of the wildest and wooliest public meetings I’ve experienced in quite some time!

The topic at hand was the F1 road expansion project for Southeast Travis County.  There were only a handful of citizens on hand to speak.  But it was quite lively.  If politics were defined as a spectator sport, today’s showdown at the races would certainly qualify as an event for the record books.

Let’s get one thing straight before going any further.  How did the vote turn out?  Did they vote to approve the roads using certificates of obligation, and to do so without voter approval? Not exactly.  Did they vote to approve Commissioner Bruce Todd’s alternate proposal to create a stakeholders committee to review the road needs and funding options and report back in six weeks?  Not exactly.

Well then, you might ask, what did they vote on?  All I can tell you is, I would sure like to know the answer to that myself.  I sat through the entire thing, and actually came away more confused than enlightened.  One thing is clear.  There won’t be another attempt at a decision until next Tuesday.

So, let’s start with the beginning of the meeting. Commissioner Margaret Gomez made an impassioned appeal for better road repairs and maintenance in Precinct 4, which includes the town of Elroy where the COTA racetrack is located.  She spoke eloquently of years of neglect for her underserved constituents there.  Even without the racetrack, she insisted, some of the roads are not safe for families and their schoolchildren.  After she spoke, a few of the family members, with toddlers on their laps, approached the table in front and addressed the commissioners with their concerns.

There was also a very lengthy staff discussion of the roads, which eventually included the total estimated price tag of $33 million.  Note that the price has gone up considerably since just last year, when most estimates never reached $20 million.  Expansions of Elroy and Kellam Road were the ones up for a vote.

All but one of the citizen speakers questioned the rush to approve the roads without first determining what other funding partners could be brought to the table.  Former Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt spoke intelligently and articulately as always about economic development and the need for “getting it right” on road projects as opposed to just getting it done.

One highlight of the afternoon was a near-meltdown of a personality clash between Gerald Daugherty and Cathy Olive, president of the Elroy Neighborhood Association.  She insisted that the section of Kellam Road up for discussion is actually part of Circuit of the Americas Boulevard.  After pausing to catch his breath, Daugherty backed away from a full scale fight with Olive, but it was obvious that a history of bad blood exists between the two.  Cathy Olive’s closing comment was that road crews were out there today “spreading black goo” to try to cover up cracks in the brand new pavement that was just put down before last year’s race.  She questioned the quality of the work done then, and wondered whether taxpayers can expect anything better the next time around.

My suggestion was that whatever health and safety issues involved in any of the roads in Precinct 4 should be dealt with on their own merits, and the necessary repairs and maintenance should be brought up to date as soon as possible.  As for the larger scale road expansions to benefit the racetrack, I recommended that the commissioners reach out to COTA for funding support.  I mentioned their repeated offers to share the costs during the period of January through April of last year.  To top it off, I asked them to approach COTA “at the highest levels” and ask them to become a major partner in other areas as well, such as sponsoring job fairs and a job training center.  I don’t think it would hurt to ask them to rebrand themselves as a high profile “good neighbor” corporate citizen.  Who knows, they might just go for it.  No one will ever know if they don’t ask.

Brigid Shea, who is the frontrunner for next year’s vacant seat on the Court, spoke up for the taxpayers and the need to keep the public’s ability to pay in mind when jumping into large scale expensive projects.  Both she and Susan Moffat recommended Bruce Todd’s proposal for a six week committee review.

Each commissioner weighed in with their thoughts.  It became clear right away that Commissioner Gerald Daugherty would vote with Gomez on her plan to approve a fast track approach to building the roads, through the Central Texas Mobility Authority.  Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Bruce Todd stood in favor of a slower, more methodical approach with the stakeholders committee.  That left Commissioner Ron Davis as the swing vote.

Davis laid out his feelings about the longstanding community divide, which he stated was very much alive and well.  Like Ms. Gomez, he spoke of the need to equalize the treatment of an underserved population in Precinct 4.  He wanted to vote yes on the Gomez motion, but only if a shared funding plan would be included.

From that point forward, everything became about as clear as mud.  Commissioner Gomez made several attempts at a motion, each time followed with several attempts at friendly amendments.  And there was at least one substitute motion.  In the end they finally voted to come back and try again next week.

It’s what they actually intend to accomplish between now and next week that is not clear, at least not to me.  Bruce Todd spoke of merging his plan with Margaret Gomez’s and possibly getting a unanimous vote.  Hopefully, that means a cost sharing plan with several other partners besides Travis County.   When I was speaking, I asked one critical question.  Is it possible to use the fast-tracking approach offered by the Central Texas Mobility Authority with voter-approved bond financing?  The answer I was given was yes.  We can only hope that no one forgets that option when the horse trading resumes again next week.

Is Fiscal Responsibility a Taboo for Democrats?

By Bill Oakey

September 16, 2013

A recent article in the Austin American-Statesman grabbed my attention and made me ponder that question.  I thought we were long past the notion that cutting governmental budgets and making life more affordable for taxpayers was somehow restricted to Republicans.

Here’s how the conversation got started.  Travis County Commissioner, Gerald Daugherty, happens to be a Republican.  In the ongoing budget discussions at the Commissioners Court, Mr. Daugherty took the time to prepare an alternative budget.  His plan would only spend $5.6 million more than last year, and all of that money would come from increases in construction revenue.  The staff’s proposed budget would spend $40 million more.

Some of Commissioner Daugherty’s cuts may be considered controversial, such as eliminating an across the board pay raise for County employees.  But he also questioned the need to hire more middle managers in one department, and he listed quite a few items that he would either cut entirely or reduce in funding.  He made another list of items he would support if comparable cuts could be found in other places.  It’s a worthwhile gesture, even if not everyone would agree with some of the specifics.

The community-wide focus on affordability has elevated the need for politicians of both parties to work aggressively to hold down tax increases and look for innovative ways to find efficiencies.  A recent American-Statesman article about Commissioner Daugherty’s alternative budget raised the specter of old ghosts that apparently still haunt the Commissioners Court.  Some commissioners commented that Democrats could not be expected to match Daugherty’s enthusiasm for voting no on so many budget items, or campaigning to reduce taxes.

Well, here’s my response to that.  Halloween is coming.  It’s time to cast out the old ghosts from the past and think in terms of modern times.  Democrats are capable not only of practicing fiscal responsibility, but even doing it better than Republicans.  How about the fact that the United States was well on its way to eliminating the budget deficit under Bill Clinton? We had a robust economy.

Some final thoughts about Gerald Daugherty.  I am sure that I would not agree with all of his votes.  But then I would probably say that about most anybody else in office.  Commissioner Daugherty supports funding for social service programs to help the less fortunate in the community, although often at a lower level than the proposed budget.  But consider this.  He made personal site visits to every non-profit that requested funding under this year’s budget.  That’s something that even Democrats in his precinct position have not done.

So, when it comes to fiscal responsibility, as well as compassion, there are lessons that can be learned from both parties.  The most important one is that Austin and Travis County need more cooperation and focus on affordability.  And that means tossing out old fashioned notions about either party being able to lay claim to any strategy that will get us there.

Travis County May Stick Taxpayers With F1 Road Costs

By Bill Oakey

September 14, 2013

Tomorrow, the Travis County Commissioners will vote on a major set of road expansion projects near the F1 racetrack.  This is Item #32 on the agenda, scheduled for 1:30.  This item would have the taxpayers pay 100% of the cost for the roads using certificates of obligation, without voter approval!  Below the agenda items, you will see two direct quotes from the Circuit of the Americas from last year, offering to share the cost of the roads with Travis County.

You can review the agenda and the backup materials here: http://www.co.travis.tx.us/commissioners_court/agendas/voting_session_agenda.asp

Here is a breakdown of the F1 road projects, from Item 32:

  1. CONSTRUCTION OF A FIVE (5) LANE ROAD FROM PEARCE TO STATE HIGHWAY 71 EFFECTIVELY EXTENDING KELLAM TO STATE HIGHWAY 71;
  2. EXPANSION OF ELROY ROAD TO A FOUR (4) LANE ROAD FROM MCANGUS TO KELLAM;
  3. A RESOLUTION FOR AN INTERLOCAL AGREEMENT WITH CENTRAL TEXAS REGIONAL MOBILITY AUTHORITY FOR PLANNING, DESIGN, ENGINEERING AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE ROAD PLAN;
  4. THE COUNTY’S INTENT TO ISSUE CERTIFICATES OF OBLIGATION TO FUND THE PLANNING, RIGHT-OF-WAY ACQUISITION, ENGINEERING AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE ROADS; AND
  5. DIRECTION TO THE COUNTY EXECUTIVE FOR TRANSPORTATION AND NATURAL RESOURCES TO WORK WITH THE CITY OF AUSTIN AND OTHER NECESSARY ENTITIES TO EXPAND KELLAM BY ADDING TWO ADDITIONAL LANES AND DISCUSS IMPROVEMENTS TO AND EXPANSION OF PEARCE LANE. (COMMISSIONER GÓMEZ)  (End)

Please email, Facebook, and Tweet this info to everyone on your list and ask them to do the same.  Ask them to come to:

Travis County Commissioners Court, 700 Lavaca Street, downtown

This Tuesday, at 1:30 PM

Last Year the COTA Entered Into Negotiations With Travis County to Share F1 Road Costs

Here is a direct quote from the COTA, from the Austin American-Statesman, dated April 5, 2012:

“We are proposing to start work on the road improvements now, with (Circuit of the Americas) paying the upfront expense. We are also proposing that Travis County would then provide COTA with a performance-based reimbursement for the county road improvements once they were complete. The percentage of reimbursement would be determined with county officials,” said Julie Loignon, a spokeswoman for the circuit.

From another Statesman article, dated Jan. 12, 2012:

“Both sides expect to work out a cost-sharing deal before long, but they say the project won’t be complete before the first race takes place Nov. 18.”  And from the same article,  “Race organizers agree — begrudgingly, according to (F1 Attorney, Richard) Suttle — that the cost of the repair and widening of Elroy between McAngus and the track entrance should be split. The two sides diverge, however, on how much each side should pay.”

Memories Fade, the Negotiations Are Forgotten, the Taxpayers Get Stuck!

Since last year those talks have been conveniently forgotten, and you and I, the taxpayers, may be stuck with the entire cost.  Judge Sam Biscoe opposes the item, and Commissioner Bruce Todd proposes a Stakeholder Committee to review cost options.  I could support Commissioner Todd’s very reasonable plan if there were no non-voter-apporved funding, and if he would simply add the cost-sharing negotiations with COTA.

Here is Commissioner Todd’s proposal:  (See more details in the agenda backup).

I propose that the specific objectives of the working group should be to create a comprehensive roadway implementation plan to achieve the following:

A recommendation to the Commissioners Court 6 weeks from the inception of the group to include, but not be limited to:

1. Best alignments for long-term regional and local benefits

2. Potential phasing to provide immediate and long-term congestion relief for area residents

3. Funding sources including the evaluation of motel-hotel taxes

4. Funding and funding partners evaluated on the basis of direct economic benefit based on participation on roadway improvements

5. Partner participation including City of Austin

You can call or email the other three County Commissioners using the links below:

Commissioner Margaret Gomez: (512) 854-9444, margaret.gomez@co.travis.tx.us

Commissioner Ron Davis: (512) 854-9111, ron.davis@co.travis.tx.us

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty: (512) 854-9333, gerald.daugherty@co.travis.tx.us

2012 Austin American-Statesman Articles, Showing COTA’s Willingness to Share F1 Road Costs:

Updated: 11:37 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, 2012 | Posted: 10:37 p.m. Thursday, April 5, 2012

Circuit of the Americas seeks assistance from Travis County for roadwork

By John Maher AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Circuit of the Americas officials are asking Travis County to pay for at least some new road construction in the vicinity of their $300 million racetrack and entertainment complex southeast of Austin.

The work would include widening Elroy Road to four lanes and the extension of little-used Kellam Road to Pearce Lane to create a new way to get to the track property.

“We are proposing to start work on the road improvements now, with (Circuit of the Americas) paying the upfront expense. We are also proposing that Travis County would then provide COTA with a performance-based reimbursement for the county road improvements once they were complete. The percentage of reimbursement would be determined with county officials,” said Julie Loignon, a spokeswoman for the circuit.

Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said it isn’t clear exactly what the circuit is seeking and added, “This looks like a very ambitious business proposal that is having trouble meeting its financial obligation. And so they are looking to the county to subsidize a portion of their startup costs.”

The 3.4-mile circuit is scheduled to host its first Formula One Grand Prix on Nov. 18. That would be the first F1 race in the United States in five years, and it’s been estimated that as many as 120,000 fans could attend.

Travis County officials have previously expressed concern about transportation to and from the isolated site, saying traffic delays for that Sunday race could be as long as 12 hours. Circuit officials have not dismissed the potential problems but have estimated delays closer to three hours.

For months, the county and the circuit officials have debated who should pay — and how much they should pay — for an estimated $8 million in road improvements for the area.

The county has said that it would pay for resurfacing McAngus and Elroy roads. The work on McAngus has already begun. There is construction going on at Elroy Road, but according to Bill Farr at Cash Construction, that is for a 30-inch water line parallel to Elroy Road.

Farr said, however, that it might be possible for the work being done on the water line to be used as a base for widening Elroy Road.

Circuit officials would like more than a mile of Elroy to be widened, from McAngus Road to the track’s northern entrance. The circuit would also like to see the county pay for some of that widening, citing the potential economic benefit to the area.

The county has said it will pay to repave Kellam Road, if the circuit then extends that road to Pearce Lane, which connects with Texas 130. Kellam is currently a road to nowhere, passing by a few houses and farmhouses before coming to an end.

Currently, two tracts of land stand between Kellam and Pearce. Weldon Copeland of Rainbow Properties said someone with the circuit has an option to buy an 82-acre plot at Kellam’s end.

There’s also a more than 600-acre tract owned by the state’s General Land Office.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has been one of the most vocal critics of the state’s pledged financial support for the race. However, on Tuesday the office’s School Land Board unanimously approved the sale of more than 6 acres of that tract — presumably enough for a road to be built if the financing can be agreed upon.

In his application for the development incentive, circuit President Steve Sexton wrote, “While we are asking for road incentives, you may still decide that the value of our proposal to county citizens is worthy of an abatement or rebate also.”

——————————————————————————-

Updated: 11:45 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, 2012 | Posted: 7:53 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9, 2012

Elroy Road to be widened, but not before first F1 race

By Ben Wear AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

With Austin’s inaugural Formula One race back on the schedule for this fall, Travis County and Circuit of the Americas have resumed negotiations over how to split the $5 million to $6 million cost of repairing and expanding about a mile of Elroy Road, a bumpy two- lane county road that leads to one of the track site’s two entrances.

Both sides expect to work out a cost-sharing deal before long, but they say the project won’t be complete before the first race takes place Nov. 18.

With that and other traffic challenges in mind, F1 attorney Richard Suttle said race officials have two consultants working on a “highly choreographed” plan to efficiently move the 120,000 people expected to attend the race southeast of Austin.

“I don’t think it’s possible for them and us to get everything worked out and get the (road improvements) designed, permitted and built by the time they have their first race,” said Steve Manilla , Travis County’s transportation and natural resources director.

Perhaps, Manilla said, the F1 group “could come in here with guns blazing to pay a premium price to get it done quicker, but I don’t see that happening.”

Travis County, even before the possibility of F1 racing in Central Texas emerged two years ago, had intended to spend about $5.5 million rehabilitating more than three miles of Elroy Road east of Texas 130. But the prospect of heavy traffic on the road — the track’s north entrance will be about a mile east of where Elroy crosses McAngus Road — changed that plan.

The track’s other entrance will be on FM 812 to the south — both FM 812 and Elroy have direct access to the nearby Texas 130 tollway — and that two-lane highway will be expanded to four lanes by re-striping the existing 44 feet of road, transforming its broad shoulders into traffic lanes.

Both sides now agree that Elroy Road should be expanded to four lanes in the milelong stretch between McAngus and the track entrance — Elroy is already four lanes west of McAngus to Texas 130 — and that a low, two-lane bridge over Dry Creek needs to be replaced with a higher, four-lane bridge.

The two lanes of Elroy, which are rippled because of the unstable clay soils underneath the road, also would be rebuilt and resurfaced.

The county will move forward with the pavement repair on the rest of Elroy Road east and south of the track’s north entrance, Manilla said, a project likely to commence later this year. And he said the county likewise will rebuild the two lanes of McAngus between Texas 130 and Elroy.

Race organizers agree — begrudgingly, according to Suttle — that the cost of the repair and widening of Elroy between McAngus and the track entrance should be split. The two sides diverge, however, on how much each side should pay.

The county, arguing that repairing two lanes is inherently less expensive than building two more lanes from scratch and that the new lanes will be on right of way purchased by the county decades ago, wants Circuit of the Americas to pay more than half.

“They’ve told us, no more site permits until we come to shore on this deal,” Suttle said. “I think we’re going to get there.”