Wear: Travis County, in case you missed it, is asking for transportation bonds


Highlights

Voters on Nov. 7 will be asked to OK $185 million in transportation, drainage and parks borrowing.

But the county, no matter how the voting comes out, will borrow another $95 million for roads and drainage.

The bonds and other spending will tilt heavily toward the long-neglected eastern precincts of Travis County.

I thought you should know, in case this news has failed to break through all the noise from Trump, the Astros and Harvey (the hurricane as well as the disgraced movie mogul), that Travis County is about to ask you for $93.4 million for transportation, mostly, and, under a separate ballot proposition, $91.5 million for parks and green space.

But it also is going to borrow and spend another $95 million, almost all of it for transportation, and the county won’t be coming to the voters for permission. Legally.

First, the transportation bonds that Travis County voters — or at least the no doubt undersized percentage who will show up for early voting and on Nov. 7 — have before them. Say yes to both, and the property tax bill for the average Travis County homestead would go up about $24.

Proposition A will be more or less split into thirds for road capacity increases (on just five roads in the 1,023 square miles of Travis County), bridge and culvert improvements in eight places, and several miles of added bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

The split between the four precincts is interesting, given the history of official neglect in the eastern half of the county — and Precinct 3 County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty’s well-documented affinity for road building.

Hint: Daugherty, whose precinct makes up most of the county west of Austin, wasn’t real happy about how all this turned out. By late on the evening of Nov. 7, we’ll know how it played with the balance of his constituents.

Second hint: Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez did very well for her southeastern Travis County constituents, and for Circuit of the Americas. This is particularly true when you consider the new debt and road work that won’t be going to voters but rather will be paid for using something called certificates of obligation. More on that in a minute.

Precinct 1, the northeastern quadrant represented by Commissioner Jeff Travillion, also did very well. Brigid Shea, whose Precinct 2 largely overlaps urban Central and North Austin, will get very little for roads. But Shea, who got her political start in Austin in the environmental movement, can point to the $16.7 million for conservation easements included in Proposition B, the one for parks.

Voters will be able to decide separately on Propositions A and B.

Related: What projects are on the Travis County bond list?

The Gomez and Travillion districts would get almost two-thirds of the road and bridge improvements under Proposition A, including $11.9 million to extend two-lane Harold Green Road from Texas 130 to the Austin’s Colony neighborhood and $9.6 million to lengthen South Pleasant Valley Road from FM 1327 to Bradshaw Road.

Daugherty and his yawning Hill County precinct, meanwhile, will get just $1.22 million for added road capacity, an intersection improvement at Bullick Hollow Road and RM 2769. The precinct, through Proposition A, would also receive four bridge or other drainage upgrades at an estimated cost of $13.9 million.

Daugherty, in what seemed to gall him when he and I discussed it, will also get a much larger amount — almost $20 million — to add bike lanes to Fitzhugh Road, Old San Antonio Road and Circle Drive/Thomas Springs Road. In debate about the bond program back in August, Daugherty unsuccessfully pushed to extend Reimers-Peacock Road to Hamilton Pool Road and chafed that he had insufficient say in what projects from his precinct made the cut.

He was on the losing end of a 4-1 vote to set the project lists for Propositions A and B, even though B includes $23.6 million to build a Bee Creek sports complex at the west end of the city of Bee Cave.

So that’s what voters will see on Proposition A. But then there are those certificates of obligation, typically five- to 20-year borrowings that are paid back from county property tax revenue. Counties and cities may use certificates for capital projects not all that different from those that end up on the ballot.

Gomez and Precinct 4 will get $56.2 million in projects, almost 60 percent of the $95 million to be funded with certificates of obligation. The centerpiece of those projects: $28.8 million to widen Elroy Road from two lanes to four, and raise it out of the flood plain, in the stretch from McAngus Road to Kellam Road. Kellam and Elroy, as it happens, is the north entrance to COTA, and its sorry state was much discussed in the run-up to the racetrack’s opening.

Pearce Lane will get about $5 million and Ross Road about $6 million. Both serve the track, as well as the subdivisions and schools in Del Valle. And all of these roads were particularly hard hit in floods of the lower Onion Creek watershed (and southeastern Travis County in general) in recent years.

Daugherty and Precinct 3, through the certificates program, will get one significant road improvement, with $5.1 million for Hamilton Pool Road, including adding left turn lanes at four places; widening the shoulder on six curves of the thin, serpentine road; and adding a half-mile-long passing lane in one section.

Travis County last had a general transportation, drainage and parks bond referendum in 2011 (the one in 2015, which failed, was to fund a downtown courthouse). Propositions A and B will share the ballot not only with seven proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution but also with $1.05 billion in Austin school district bonds. Or, in parts of Daugherty’s district, a $253 million ask from the Lake Travis school district.



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