January 29, 2007
Sen. Kirk Watson told his new CAMPO Mobility Financing task force Monday that he came into the first meeting with an idea that the group eventually should set forth a framework to gauge transportation projects but with no preconceived notions of what values should drive those decisions. In essence, Watson wants to start with a clean slate with his task force, even using the first meeting as a chance to outline the federal and local funding implications for transportation projects and how the current financing system works. Watson said he considered giving the committee a starting point but then decided against it. “If we were to sit down today and create what we think to be the list of our top five values … If those are just the same ones or the only ones we had a month from now, or two months from now, then I would think we had probably failed,” Watson said. “Because what that means is that we had not taken in enough data or taken in enough information and are not willing enough to see how other people are looking at issues.”It has taken 24 to 30 months for the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to dig the current hole over toll roads and the deep divide that has occurred in the community. Watson said those problems won’t be resolved overnight, nor should it be resolved without a thorough review by the task force, which includes both sitting CAMPO Transportation Policy Board members and outside participants, including local civic leaders Frank Fernandez and Greg Marshall, as well as David Ellis of the Texas Transportation Institute and Michael Replogle of Environmental Defense. Each task force member received a thick binder of materials that covered the transportation planning process, as well as past opinion surveys and recent studies. During yesterday’s meeting, District Engineer Bob Daigh presented an overview of federal highway funding and CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick outlined the challenges confronting the Austin region in terms of growth and funding needs.Aulick presented an opinion survey, conducted in 2004 before the toll road debate began, that noted a slight preference for tolls over gas tax in funding future projects in the region. Daigh presented information that noted that only 50 cents of every gas tax dollar actually goes to the construction of roads in the state. Task force members did ask for additional materials, include back-up of the traffic sensitivity measures used to predict the impact of new roads in the region. The group will continue to meet, roughly on a bi-weekly basis, through the end of March.