March 11, 2007
A proposal to give Austin, smaller cities and counties control over development around the massive Texas 130 toll road makes so much sense even the state Legislature might agree.State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, is behind three bills to grant more power to the cities and counties affected by Texas 130. Although the Legislature historically has opposed granting ordinance-making power to counties, and has had little love for Austin’s development controls, more authority will be necessary to prevent detrimental and chaotic development along the toll road corridor.As Watson said, Central Texas is vastly different than it was even 25 years ago, and the time for new approaches to control development is now. A transportation district is important for Austin because the toll road is surrounded by 174 square miles of the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, where the city’s development control is limited.Texas 130 presents an enormous challenge for Austin, smaller cities, and Travis and neighboring counties in its path. Some 50 miles of highway will be complete in a few years, which doesn’t give local governments enough time to prepare, fund and install infrastructure. Texas 130 is too much too soon for local government to manage.Watson’s bills would create an infrastructure district to give Austin limited annexation power and land-use control. It also would give the city 15 years to provide water, sewer, drainage and roads in that district, a cushion necessary to do the job right. Another provision allows the city to collect sales and property taxes to pay for services it eventually will provide.Two other bills prepared by Watson would grant limited zoning and taxing powers to counties and small cities along the toll road. Today, those governments have little authority to control development.Urban counties in Texas have long needed more authority to control development, but the Legislature has not acknowledged the problem. Watson’s bills are an opportunity for legislators to observe how limited power can help urban counties control development in a good way.Texas 130 is an immense project for Central Texas that requires special attention. Watson’s bills can help the communities facing rapid development manage it properly.Legislators should appreciate that when they consider these bills.