Thursday night’s Austin City Council hearing on toll lanes over Lady Bird Lake brought back fond memories of grass-roots citizens coming together to fight for the Save Our Springs Ordinance (SOS) back in the early 90’s. The overwhelming majority of last night’s speakers do not want a double-decker bridge with unaffordable surge-priced tolls built over Lady Bird Lake.
Highlights from the meeting included Travis County Commissioner and SOS co-founder, Brigid Shea, reading a letter from Luci Baines Johnson. The crowd in the Council Chambers went wild! Several speakers pointed out that major cities around the world are now or have been removing highways from parks and waterways. These include Seattle, Portland, Boston, Singapore and even Seoul, South Korea.
When the dust settled and all the speakers had made their appeals, newly elected Mayor, Steve Adler, shined like a beacon. He spoke eloquently of Lady Bird Lake, Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores being the “Crown Jewels of Austin.” No one who engaged with him could match his grasp of the details. There wasn’t a person in the room who could match Adler’s acumen for citing Federal regulations, previous CAMPO grant application language or any other minute details. (My own whimsical thoughts of challenging the Mayor to a game of Scrabble have been placed on hold indefinitely).
After lengthy discussions and much nitpicking over the wording, the City Council voted 9 to 2 to adopt a resolution calling for an independent City study of alternatives for the road’s size and location. The resolution also calls upon the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), to work closely with City officials in their own study, which is already underway. Importantly, the resolution does not call for abandoning the road project altogether. Many speakers supporting the single option of four toll lanes over Lady Bird Lake characterized the Council resolution as nothing more than an environmentalist attack on traffic relief for South Austin.
It turns out that the good people of Dallas are fighting a very similar battle. And it will all come to a head in a big City Council election happening tomorrow (Saturday May 9th). Take a look at the article below:
Public support for the $1.3 billion project planned within the Trinity River levees is tepid, even though voters have twice approved it and the City Council last week signaled strong support for a new idea on how to construct it.
Of Dallas residents who have formed an opinion on the road, 40 percent oppose it and 23 percent favor it. The News’ poll found opposition even higher among registered voters, with 65 percent against it.
Most aren’t swayed by plans to initially start the toll road with fewer lanes and interchanges than what could eventually be built decades in the future.
Federal highway authorities this month approved construction for the road designed as a large, high-speed tolled highway that would run inside the city’s planned massive park alongside the river.
Project opponents say the survey results lay bare a long-growing disdain for the road — and a burgeoning distrust of the city officials who back it.
“This poll clearly shows that Dallas voters are now decisively rejecting the Trinity toll road,” said Angela Hunt, a former City Council member who led the failed 2007 referendum to reduce the size of the project now going forward. “The people pushing for this road are not representing the interests of Dallas residents.”
While opponents for years have said that the road is inhospitable to the planned park, that wasn’t the primary factor fueling opposition citywide. The project’s $1.3 billion cost is, say those who opposed it in the poll.
Toll road supporters, meanwhile, say the numbers highlight the need to better educate an electorate that still has a large group of undecideds. More than a third of residents either haven’t received enough information to form an opinion or have yet to make up their minds.
Two-thirds of those surveyed said downtown highways need traffic relief, though only 17 percent believe Trinity Parkway is the right solution.
Mayor Mike Rawlings, a chief supporter of the road, said something must be done to alleviate congestion. The City Council has called for public meetings about the Trinity Parkway in coming weeks.
“Through those meetings, I will have the chance to get an accurate sense of where the community stands on the new parkway vision,” he said.
The primary reasons for backing the road among those who favored it were congestion relief, even though traffic estimates show it won’t provide a dramatic overall benefit and would worsen bottlenecks in parts of southern Dallas.
The poll of 800 Dallas residents, taken April 10-17 by Blum & Weprin Associates Inc. using cellphones and landlines, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. For registered voters, the margin of error was plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
The results shed light on how residents and voters view the project ahead of the May 9 election for City Council members who decide the project’s fate. The project itself is not on the ballot, but 65 percent of registered voters say where candidates stand on the issue will be an important consideration.
In a contentious meeting last week, council members agreed 10-4 to put together a team to determine which recommendations from a group of privately funded experts could be incorporated into the first phase of Trinity Parkway’s construction.
Those suggestions include initially building fewer lanes and interchanges than showed in designs for the full-scale version of the toll road. At the same meeting, the council also voted 10-4 against dropping its pursuit of the large toll road that some officials have said will eventually be built.
The News polled residents about moving forward on that full-scale project, often referred to as Alternative 3C. More than 63 percent of those opposed said starting with fewer lanes would make no difference in their opinion; 14 percent said it would make them more supportive. But 12 percent said that tactic would make them more opposed.
Council member and toll road supporter Lee Kleinman, who is unopposed for re-election, said that telling poll respondents that Trinity Parkway was a toll road biased the results because there is a strong sentiment against such road projects right now in North Texas.
Kleinman and Rawlings, whose election challenger Marcos Ronquillo is against the road, also faulted the poll for not asking about details of the so-called dream team’s recommendations for the first phase of construction.
The council has yet to formally adopt those recommendations and is just now trying to figure out which ones are feasible and allowable. There also is no plan yet for funding whatever recommendations get used.
Waiting on corps
The city already has received federal highway clearance for the road. It is awaiting approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the road, park and lakes. Both reviews revolved around Alternative 3C. Kleinman said withdrawing support of Alternative 3C now could delay the road and the park for years.
Toll road opponent Philip Kingston, another council member without a challenger, doesn’t believe the overall corridor would be set back several years. He said it’s better to slow down and be right than speed up and be wrong.
“Are we in a hurry to make a 100-year mistake?” he said.
Craig Holcomb, a former City Council member who is now executive director of the nonprofit Trinity Commons Foundation and a longtime supporter of the road, said many respondents probably wrongly assumed that the bulk of costs will be paid through property taxes.
The city is expected to only spend $84 million, a ceiling set by voters in a 1998 bond election. Most of construction costs haven’t been determined, though officials will probably pursue a mix of toll revenue bonds, federal funds and state contributions.
“We’ll accept money wherever we can find it,” he said.
The Election Battle Erupts, With Felony Charges Recommended
From the Dallas Morning News City Hall Blog – May 8, 2015:
The Trinity Parkway dispute has divided candidates this election
Many City Council candidates are similar in their stances on issues.
But one has divided the candidates, like the council, into pro and anti groups: The proposal to build a toll road through the Trinity River floodway.
That issue has led unopposed anti-Trinity road council members like Philip Kingston to campaign for candidates outside of their own districts. In the middle of campaign season, new design ideas for the project yielded a heated council argument.
When police recommended felony charges against council member Scott Griggs last week after accusations he threatened a city employee, Griggs’ attorneys called the move political retaliation for his opposition to the Trinity project and a pre-election distraction.