Council passes $720M mobility bond to improve Austin traffic

Traffic in Austin
Traffic in Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — City council unanimously passed a $720 million mobility bond on the first two readings Thursday night, setting the stage to pass the final language that will appear on the November ballot this coming Thursday.

Council chose to shift some additional funding to sidewalks, and take some funding away from urban trails. Many who spoke during the public comment period Thursday night voiced the need for sidewalk improvements and additions.

“Many times there’s cars narrowly missing me,” David Wittie, a community organizer with Adapt, which brings together disability rights activists said. He recognizes the great need for the rehabilitation and creation of sidewalks in the city, particularly in East Austin. “Some of our members have also been hit by cars. People already in wheelchairs getting hit by cars.”

“There are other areas where the infrastructure of roads won’t help people because they don’t have cars. They have their feet. And that is their mode of transportation,” Roy Waley, conversation chair for the regional group of the Sierra Club said. “We’re moving people, but not everyone’s getting to be there. Not everyone’s part of the movement.”

Right now, the ordinance separates the money into three categories of projects and the areas in which those projects would take place. Council members Don Zimmerman and Ann Kitchen told KXAN ahead of Thursday’s meeting that it doesn’t go far enough. They want to see specific dollar amounts designated for each project to ensure funding is allotted for the job. Zimmerman, who voted in support of putting the mobility bond on the ballot, says if the council doesn’t agree to change the wording his support could be pulled.

“What that means is nothing is binding if the tax payers don’t have a ballot ordinance that says how the money is going to be spent then city staff has discretion to move the money around and if they succeed in that I will be voting against the ballot language and I will work to defeat the bond,” said Zimmerman.

Mayor Steve Adler is pushing for “smart corridor” plans that include traffic improvements on South and North Lamar Boulevard, Airport Boulevard, Riverside Drive, Burnet Road, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Guadalupe Street and FM 969.

Council member Ora Houston originally voted against the bond because she didn’t like the process of how it was created, but voted in favor Thursday night.

“It was given to us as a take this bond or leave it and we had no options of how the money was appropriated or what buckets it was put in,” Houston originally said.

During Thursday’s public testimony, several said they wanted so see an additional item added to the November ballot. A light rail, running along the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor. A majority of council members and the mayor voiced their commitment during Thursday’s meeting, to moving forward with rail in the near future. But many, didn’t feel a plan was fully ready just yet and want the rail to succeed.

The Mayor’s spokesman had told KXAN allocating certain dollar amounts for projects might cause more problems. That’s because the bond is set to be used over an eight year period and if the cost of projects change or if one runs under the allotted dollar amount they don’t want to be forced to spend the money on more expensive items in an effort to use all of the funding.

Ballot language must be finalized by Monday, Aug. 22. If voters approve the bond it is slated to raise taxes for someone who owns a $250,000 home by $56 per year.

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