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I got bored

September 29, 2016

So here’s the more or less complete transcript from Mayor Steve Adler’s second mobility bond speech yesterday in front of the Central Texas Democratic Forum. Any garbled audio is noted. I also included the Q&A but left out one particularly irrelevant Q. The typos are mine; the syntax is all his.

I think everybody in this city knows we have some main challenges. We have affordability issues and mobility issues in this city. I think they’re intertwined and we’re ultimately not going to be able solve either one of them without solving the other. And I think that this mobility bond is one important leg for us to be able to do the work.

A $720 million bond on transportation. That’s a lot of money. $720 million. But I would point out to you that the Highway 183 project that’s happening right now on the north part of town is a $650 million project that’s now on the way. The 183 project that is on the east side of town, Ed Bluestein, is a $750 or $742 million project.

Every time we do an intersection of two state highways and we do flyover lanes, that’s a $250 million project. Do you know how much has done cumulatively on transportation bonds over the last 20 years? $630 million. One of the reasons why we have congestion in this city is because we have chosen not to do anything about it.

Austin, in classic fashion, confronted with two alternatives, A and B, will seek to first demonstrate that neither A nor B are perfect, and having determined that neither A nor B are perfect, we will then choose option C, which is to do nothing. And we’ve run out of town. We actually have to do work.

Just by way of scale, I just got back from Seattle. Seattle also has a transportation bond up on their November election. It’s not just the city, it’s the city and the surrounding areas so it’d be like the City of Austin doing it and Travis County. We have in that area 2 million, Seattle has 2.8 million people. Their bond that’s up in November is a transportation package for $54 billion. [gasps] $54 billion. Do you wanna know what going big really is? That’s going big.

So we have a transportation bond package that divides things into three buckets. First bucket, almost $500 million of the$720 goes to those streets that are the most congested points that more people live next to than other streets. We’re talking about South Lamar, North Lamar, Burnet Road, Airport, Riverside, MLK/969, we’re talking about William Cannon, Slaughter Lane. We’re talking about implementing the corridor studies that we have spent millions of dollars on. When we picked these projects as part of the 2010 and 2012 bond elections, we spent thousands of community stakeholder, neighborhood organizations time ??? thousands of people, thousands of hours, millions of dollars. Perhaps the most community vetted plans, transportation plans this city has had.

Now we’re talking about stepping up and doing the work.

Also in that package is identifying and initiating the corridor studies on what will be the next set of roads. Pleasant Valley Road, Rundberg Lane, Manchaca, Colony Park. So the next roads are put in queue in order to have work that’s done.

It looks as if 60 maybe a little bit more percent of the people in this city live within a mile and a quarter of these roads. And while, in this community when we’re focused on mobility, we’re doing work on 183 to the northwest, 183 to the east and south, that we’re doing the managed lane on Mopac. Not everybody is going to want to get out of their car and into a bus. But I will tell you that very few people will want to get out of their car and into a bus if the bus is stuck in the same traffic that the car is stuck in.

If we really want to do a mode change in this city, when you look at all the cities and the work they have done, like Atlanta here 2 percent of the vehicles that are now traveling are carrying over 20 percent of the people on these managed lane roads… If we really want to do that work, we have to do something like these managed lanes so that transit is always traveling at a relatively high rate of speed.

And then we have the I35 corridor where hopefully we’re going to get managed lanes put in there. That work is happening in and around us. We have to do work on our streets here locally as well.

So that’s the first bucket. That’s most of it.

The second bucket, about $100 million is predominately sidewalk work. It is safe passages to schools for children. Now we have children that walking in the street in Airport Boulevard to get to and from school. It’s just not right.

But in this second bucket, most of that $100 million is being spent on sidewalk work. It also has work being spent on bicycle master plan, also the Urban Trail Master Plan.

I’d also add safety component to it. Some of our most dangerous intersections and some of our most substandard roads that we looked at.

And then the third bucket, which is the smallest of the three buckets, deals with some pain points that are not proximate to the corridor work that’s being done. So work on 360, Spicewood Springs Road, on Anderson Mill, Parmer Lane, 620 and 2222. That’s the (macro?).

I think it’s real important that this Council did something that Councils have never done to the extent that we did. Not only did we pass those buckets, but they ??? resolution, a criteria, that we wanted the staff to use when they went and said how they would go about and where they would spend the money within those identified projects. And it’s set the criteria that has to be used. Number one was dealing with congestion. Number two was dealing with transit. Those were really the criteria to be ??? And not only did we say we wanted those to be the criteria that got used, we actually passed a resolution that said that that would be the criteria to be used, and we passed a resolution putting in language so that that resolution would be a contract with the voters and just as enforceable as the bond language itself. That’s something that City Councils just have not done in Austin. And I’m proud to be part of a Council that included that so that people who vote, citizens and residents in the community, know exactly what’s going on.

So this is a package on a very basic level deals with the things that we have to start doing in this city if we’re going to begin dealing with mobility.

Our people tell us that we have $9 billion of unmet needs in transportation in the city of Austin. $9 billion. This bond package obviously doesn’t address all of them. But it is a significant step, the most significant step that we’ve taken as a community to deal with congestion in a meaningful way, to deal with setting up transit, corridors, and significant material way, dealing with safety in our community in a strong and material way.

Which is why it has enjoyed the support at this point of labor, of the Democratic Party, of virtually club and organization that this has gone before. This has pretty widespread support in the community. And frankly we have to do well on this bond to send a message and to establish a pattern and a practice in this community to build momentum. Because we took a significant amount of money that we can bond without raising taxes — $250 million that we did not make part of this transportation package. We formed as a Council, we formed a citizens bond commission that will be seated with that capacity so that it can start taking a look at the other things that we need such as affordable housing, flood buyouts, parks and open spaces… so we have set up that process as well. So it’s important that we do well on this election.

Q: WHY NO RAIL

I will tell you first that I”m a rail supporter. And it’s hard for me to imagine this city, this metropolitan area where we have 4 million people in it in the not too distant future where we don’t have a operating system like that because you just have to have something like that to move people around.

But this bond package was about moving forward with those things where there was wide consensus. Quite frankly, we really couldn’t launch this until we had the TNC election that played through in May. We didn’t want to miss this election cycle in November when we’ll have 300,000 people potentially voting in November. So the question for us was, was there a significant and meaningful and material transportation bond package that we could put together in the months of May and June and there is not that level of consensus on rail. But I am wanting to join with my fellow Council members not only to say that this is something can be considered the bond advisory commission but it’s also something that I’m committed to working toward in order to build that.

Q: MAYOR, A NUMBER OF PEOPLE HAVE QUESTIONED ONE SPOKE IN THE TRANSPORTATION PACKAGE THAT YOU MENTIONED AND THAT’S SOUTH LAMAR. AND OUR NEIGHBORHOOD LISTSERV AND TODAY’S PAPER, A LETTER TO THE EDITOR, NARROWING FOUR LANES DOWN TO ONE LANE IN ORDER TO ACCOMMODATE BUSES AND YOU DON’T HAVE SUPPORT FROM CAPITAL METRO, TO MANY PEOPLE APPEARS TO BE A NON-STARTER.

Mark Twain once said, actually he didn’t say it, it’s attributed to him, “Things that are not true can circle the globe in the amount of time that the truth takes to put on its shoes.” [crowd chuckles] There is nothing in this bond election that takes away lanes for travel lanes for bike lanes. Nowhere in this project. There is nowhere in the corridor studies that have been presented that take away lanes at all, other than on Riverside Drive and in Guadalupe. The plans that were presented in the corridor had three stages to them. Short term, midterm, and long term. Some of the corridors have two stages, short term and long term. The congestion relief components of those corridor plans are not built out in the short term scenario. You have to do the long term, you have to do the full design. So wherever you build you have to make sure you go all the way so that you realize the results. This Council looked at that, the short term midterm, and long term plans, and directed the staff to come back and do the long term plans. There is some short term planning on some places on Lamar that says an interim period of time, let’s take away a lane in order to facilitate the buses or facilitate the bikes. But those same plans real clearly say, but in the long term plan you shouldn’t be doing that because this is what we’re going to do in order to not lose any lane capacity. So anybody who says that we’re losing lanes the way you just described is looking at a short term that is not the state intention of the City Council to execute. Nor does it fit within the criteria that is the contract with the voters where we said, “You’re going to prioritize what’s necessary to do construction.” The only place where potentially someone could walk in, as I’ve seen on the listserv and blogs myself, that we’re losing tens of miles of lanes, is we’re talking about losing chicken lanes. Because chicken lanes slow down traffic because people are pulling into those lanes and making left turns in the middle of traffic. So what we’re doing is putting medians down the middle of the roads which all traffic engineers will tell you will speed traffic, speed through-put, and deal with congestion. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re putting in medians, we’re putting in dedicated turn lanes to allow people to be able to turn. This package does not lose lanes. It adds lanes.

Q: WHY ISN’T CAPITAL METRO SUPPORTING

Capital Metro is supporting it. The question with respect to Capital Metro was what do they think about the bus pull-offs with the queue jumps. And what Capital Metro said was, “Those are good, but we would rather have dedicated bus lanes.” And I hear that. And I would rather Capital Metro have dedicated bus lanes too. Dedicated bus lanes are put into this plan where they can be done without losing lanes. But these plans don’t have us acquiring additional right-of-way. It’s making a smarter use of the right-of-way that we have. And it does it in a way that does not lose lanes. Capital Metro will tell you that they do support bus pullouts and queue jumps especially those bus pullouts happening just past the traffic light so that in the sequencing of the traffic light, they’re able to pull back into traffic. But certainly they would rather have dedicated lanes and I have no fault with that. But if they’re not going to get dedicated lanes, this is what Capital Metro wants.

Q: HOW LONG IS SHORT TERM

We’re not going to do any short term. We’re going to do the full tilt boogie on these plans to the extent that we’re able to. To do all the corridor plans, it costs about $1.5 billion. We’re not going to be able to do $1.5 billion, just like we cant’ do all $9 billion in total needs. But what we’ve told the staff to do is come back with an execution plan, a logistical plan, and a priortization plan that says this is the most impactful way to spend up to almost $500 million and then we’re going to do that in the most impactful way. We’re going to do it in a way that enables us to leverage additional funds. You don’t get money when you go tot he state or the feds unless you come to the table with money. We’ve been watching what’s happening in Hays County and Williamson County. I was talking to [Hays County Commissioners/CAMPO Chair] Will Conley as we were developing this recipe that we’re talking about perhaps moving forward, and a lot of these are state highways, Lamar or Airport, these are state highways. They don’t feel like state highways or look like state highways, but that’s what they are. Hays County and Williamson County raised money in order to improve those roads. They raised a bond of about $140 million and they’ve leveraged it to almost $500 million. And we want to be trying to do that both at the state level and the federal level. We also want to do these roads in conjunction with the developers and the people that own properties that we can leverage their involvement so that we can stretch these dollars as much as we can.

Q: TALK ABOUT THE STATE ROADS. MY UNDERSTANDING IS THAT TXDOT CONTROLS THOSE ROADS, CORRECT? IS THE CITY OF AUSTIN GOING TO BE DOING CONSTRUCTION ON LAMAR AND BURNET, IS THE CITY OF AUSTIN TAKING UP THOSE ROADS FROM TXDOT SO THAT TXDOT CAN BUILD ITS TOLL ROAD ON 35?

The state has not agreed, the city has not agreed to take over those roads. Sen. Watson has suggested that one of the things that should be considered in terms of financing I-35, the managed lane on I-35, that one of the things that should be considered is the city taking over maintenance and operation on those roads for some certain value that would have to be set but that’s the senator’s suggestion, it’s on a list of eight different things that should be considered. And I appreciate what he’s doing to move that project forward. And I appreciate he’s given us all suggestions on how it might be funded. But we have not agreed to do that.

Q: MAYOR, I LIKE YOUR BUCKET 2, I LIKE THE BICYCLE LANES AND I LIKE THE TRAILS, AND IT’S A SMALL PIECE OF THE TOTAL PACKAGE. BUT ARE YOU CONCERNED, THAT THERE’S A LOT PEOPLE IN TOWN WHO ARE ANTI-BICYCLE AND ANTI-TRAIL, ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT A SMALL PIECE OF THE BOND PACKAGE PULLING DOWN THE REST OF THE PACKAGE?

When you put together a plan like this that is trying to draw on the widest consensus of the community, that is not the same thing as saying that everybody in the community will like every part of it. And to the degree that not everybody likes every part of it, it’s a concern. So I see the blogs that say we have too much bicycle and active transportation. And I see the blogs that say we don’t have enough bicycle and active transportation. And I see them both…. But I will say that the indications are that support for this is pretty widespread all over the community because I think we’ve found the right balance on those things. This is not pedestrian, bicycle, sidewalk is not the bulk of what is this plan. But it is more than has ever happened in our history in those areas on a bond program.

Q: DID YOU CONSIDER HAVING THE THREE BUCKETS AS SEPARATE VOTES?

We did consider that and we discussed that as a Council, because we obviously could do this as three buckets, put it on separately or put it together. And we had some people that said, “I’m only gonna support this if we split this up so that I can vote on them individually.” And we had other people who said, “I’m only gonna vote for this if I know that if I support this aspect of it, this aspect will also happen. And if I don’t know this aspect is going to happen, then I’m not sure I want to vote for this.” So some people demanded that we put it all together so that they could be sure that when they made that exchange, when they voted for it, they would be getting the whole package. It’s just like the bicycle stuff. There’s no way to call that in a way that was going to please everybody.

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