CAMPO Gives Its Blessing To Cap Metro Light Rail Plans
Fast TrackBY MIKE CLARK-MADISON
November 12, 1999: It wasn't exactly a crossroads, but Capital Metro did make it through a rough patch of road, or rail, on Monday night, as the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) voted to support the transit authority's application for federal light-rail funds. A little background on this often-Byzantine process: Pursuant to federal law, each U.S. metropolitan area has a designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which every five years produces a long-range (25-year) transportation plan for the area and authorizes the spending of federal transportation dollars (which is where the real money comes from) on specific road or transit infrastructure projects. In some other places, the MPO duties are performed by a broader regional agency, such as a council of government, with interests that go beyond transportation. This has thus far not been true in Austin, where until last year CAMPO was known as the Austin Transportation Study.
The big difference in Austin is that the board of the MPO -- the CAMPO Policy Advisory Committee -- consists of actual elected officials at the municipal, county, and state levels who take their CAMPO duties quite seriously. Chaired by state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, the CAMPO board includes four Austin City Council members, three Travis County commissioners, all eight members of Metro Austin's legislative delegation, the mayors of Cedar Park and Round Rock, and one county commissioner each from Williamson and Hays counties, plus our Texas Department of Transportation district engineer and a member of the Capital Metro board.
These two facts -- that the MPO is, despite the name, not a full-service planning group, and that it's highly politicized -- are essential to understanding why it's not a routine matter for Capital Metro to secure CAMPO's blessing. It was, after all, CAMPO board members who, in the last two Legislatures, fired the old Cap Met board; enabled and, sotto voce, forced the agency to take its light-rail plans to the voters next year; and laid the groundwork for raiding Cap Met's sales-tax collections for road projects, should the voters nix rail transit.
Given all that, the discussion at CAMPO's Nov. 8 board meeting was more muted than you might expect. It helped that Cap Metro was only asking for permission to submit a request for federal funding for its "locally preferred alternative," or LPA -- a starter line from McNeil Road south to downtown, with as-yet-undefined extensions to the south and east -- and not seeking carte blanche to build the system. And it helped that Austin's current long-range plan, adopted by the then-ATS in 1995, calls for 54 miles of rail transit, including all the corridors in Cap Met's LPA.
Travis County Commissioner Todd Baxter
This highlights that other pertinent fact about CAMPO -- that it is not what many feel Central Texas really needs, a regional planning organization with input, if not absolute authority (this is Texas, after all), over land-use and infrastructure planning as well as transportation. As Council Member Gus Garcia pointed out, echoing the green-badged contingent of the audience, "If people keep living further and further away, there will be more and more gridlock, no matter how many roads you build. It is enormously important to stop the urban sprawl that's killing our roads, [and] fixed-guideway [i.e., rail] transit allows cities to guide where development occurs."
Of course, any transportation facility will guide where development occurs, which is why folks with an interest in keeping the suburbs viable are so hot and heavy for SH 130 and the Texas Turnpike Authority's other three local toll-road proposals -- the northern extension of MoPac, the U.S. 183-A bypass, and the northwestern section of SH 45, née the Outer Loop. The CAMPO board took public testimony, again mostly in favor, but put off making a decision on formally including these roads in its work program. The biggest of them, SH 130, is going through the same EIS process that Cap Met is about to embark on; that study is supposed to be released in mid-December, at which point the debate over that controversial highway will make little ol' Cap Met the furthest thing from CAMPO's collective mind.
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Delisi Reaps Bush Money on the Side [11-05-99]
On Light Rail, Legal Fees and Automobiles [11-05-99]
More by Mike Clark-Madison:
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Rail With the Punches [10-29-99]
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City Makes $1 Million Commitment to Affordable Housing [10-22-99]
Seeing the Light: Capital Metro maps out Austin's transportation future.
Capital Metro Unveils Its Plans for Austin's Future [10-22-99]