The Statesman editorial staff asked Austin Mayor Steve Adler about the facts and myths regarding the $720 million bond package on the Nov. 8 ballot. Below are excerpts:
American-Statesman: What three questions are you asked most about the bonds?
Mayor Steve Adler: The top three questions I get about the mobility bond are:
1. Will this help with traffic congestion?
2. Will this help with traffic congestion?
3. Will this help with traffic congestion?
I’m not joking. This is by far the most common question asked, more than all other questions combined, and I think this accurately reflects not only the community’s mood but our city’s challenge. Austin has traffic congestion because we have chosen not to do anything about it — and the work is piling up.
We have $9.5 billion in identified transportation needs in Austin, and it’s time to get started. We cannot wait until we have all the money to do all we need. We need to get started. We cannot wait any longer to take the plans off the shelf and start doing the work to address traffic congestion. This is the top priority.
The good news is that the traffic engineers tell us that the corridor plans and bond projects will help address traffic congestion. On South Lamar, for example, delays during morning rush hour will decrease by 61 percent if we do the work in the corridor plans that are included in the mobility bond. If we do not do this work, traffic delays will increase by 216 percent. We will see improvement in delays in both morning and afternoon rush hours on all the corridors: North and South Lamar, Burnet Road, Airport Boulevard, East Riverside, and East MLK/FM 969, William Cannon and Slaughter Lane, and also with the increased capacity and movements to be done on Loop 360, Anderson Mill and Parmer Lane.
What is the biggest myth about the bond package you would like to clear up?
The biggest myth is that it won’t address traffic congestion. This is wrong.
First, this work addresses congestion. How do we know? The professionals and traffic engineers tell us so. They have studied our traffic problem, looked at the options, studied the plans in the mobility bond, and all agreed that these corridors are where we need to focus and that the mobility bond is asking for the money necessary to meaningfully address traffic congestion.
Second, the corridor studies on which the mobility bond is largely based made traffic congestion relief a priority. These plans are literally on the shelf and ready to go. You’ve already paid for them; hundreds of citizens, neighborhoods, businesses helped develop them. Now we need to do the work.
Third, you have a legally binding guarantee that the work done will actually focus on the priority of congestion relief. Your council, in a first-time-ever action adopted a “contract with the voter” resolution that legally requires all bond funds be used to make the maximum possible difference on traffic congestion. Before the staff can spend any money, the council has contractually agreed that there be a very public process to evaluate the projects and how and where the dollars will be spent, subject to that priority.
Some Austin residents believe passing the mobility bonds would accommodate and expedite more unwanted redevelopment in central and other neighborhoods. True or false? And how do you make a case to those residents who don’t want to speed redevelopment?
False. This mobility bond is the best protection for neighborhoods because it would manage growth along the corridors without going into the neighborhoods. The mobility bond would encourage transit along the transit corridors, and we can leverage these projects to focus new housing projects along these main arteries so people and transit are conveniently together. This protects neighborhoods from unchecked growth and cut-through traffic.
Some Austin residents are suspicious of the timing of the transportation bonds, saying they are a precursor to Code Next revisions aimed at helping developers with their plans to rezone traditional residential areas and neighborhoods to accommodate more density, such as apartments or mixed-use developments? How do you respond to those sentiments?
Our traffic problem is the reason we’re offering a mobility bond to address traffic congestion. This is an urgent problem for Austin, and that alone is dictating our timing and urgency to address traffic congestion with this mobility bond. We would still be doing a mobility bond now to address traffic congestion, whether or not our development code was being revised. Traffic congestion is dictating the timing of this mobility bond. Nothing else. Period.
As I mentioned above, the mobility bond would enable growth along the corridors in a way that would protect neighborhoods. We want development along transit corridors to accommodate new housing supply in a way that does not interfere with our neighborhoods, but we can’t do that unless we have better traffic and more transit on those transit corridors.