Small business owners voice concerns over mobility bond unknowns

FILE - South Lamar Boulevard (KXAN Photo)
FILE - South Lamar Boulevard (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some call it a risky $720 million blank check with no promise. Others say it’s a necessary step to jump start congestion relief that should have happened years ago on roads like Lamar Boulevard, Airport Road and Burnet road. As voters continue to turn out to the polls in record numbers, we wanted to explore another piece of Austin’s mobility bond.

Honest Transportation Solutions, the political action committee (PAC) opposing the bond, held a gathering Sunday afternoon to voice concerns with the bond package. Ashley Schor, owner of Bead It on South Lamar, says the lack of information alone about how this could impact businesses along the identified corridors, is reason enough for her to vote against it.

“I love change, my business has grown as the city has grown,” Schor said. “But I’m concerned that this is too big of a change without us really knowing what the fallout of any of these decisions are going to be.”

Mayor Steve Adler says the smart corridor plans, calling for light synchronization, bus pullouts and bike lanes to name a few, are among the most vetted plans the city has ever had. He says planning began back in 2009, with corridor studies involving community groups across the city.

“We had a citywide mobility community involvement process that ran the first half of this year in 2016 that concluded that we needed to work on the corridors and on safe routes to schools and on sidewalks,” Adler said. “Austin, Texas is great at planning and planning and planning and at some point we actually have to start doing something.”

But some business owners, like Schor, say they’re just now hearing about the plans, wondering what future construction will do to their livelihood.

“Because those conversations didn’t happen prior, I feel strongly that this is sort of a red flag to me,” Schor said.

A big sticking point with Roger Falk, President of the Travis County Taxpayer’s Union and PAC member, has to do with converting center turn lanes, like those on South Lamar, into medians with designated turn lanes. Falk fears what impact changing traffic patterns and forcing drivers to make U-turns will have on businesses.

“It’s going to cut access to these small businesses and they will become the casualties. That’s the tragedy of Prop 1,” he said.

Adler acknowledged concerns but said the new design will be better for all.

“We have experience with this kind of design around the country. All of the traffic engineers and professionals say that what is in the bond proposal will help with congestion. That it will support local businesses. That it’ll make us safer,” Adler said, saying turn lanes in a median is 60-70 percent safer than center turn lanes.

While Schor says she certainly wants safety, she’d feel more comfortable with more information.

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