Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Transportation Forum doesn't reveal much....

Sen. Kirk Watson (l) and Councilmember Ann Kitchen (r)

"But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness."
2 Timothy 2:16

Last night's Austin Monitor transportation forum was heavy on platitudes and light on substance; considering who was involved, that's probably a good thing.

Senator Kirk Watson and Councilmember Ann Kitchen (a last minute substitute for Mayor Adler) spoke in generalities about Austin's transportation challenges.  They mostly made bland, non-controversial, statements with which no one would disagree.  At least they weren't promoting something bad.

The biggest takeaway was that the odds of a major transportation bond in 2016 are diminishing by the week.  Watson spoke of balancing the desire to place a bond before a presidential year electorate with the need to have significant public buy-in BEFORE coming to voters.  Watson stated bonds "need to address specific needs" and acknowledged the perils of pushing bonds without public input.  While Watson will defer to council's decision, with the November election already less than 8 months away his warning was impossible to miss.  Kitchen explicitly stated "there's been no decision" on a transportation bond.

On the plus side, Watson spoke favorably about widening 183.  This was originally Michael Cargill's idea during the 2014 election.  We've believed for some time that widening and removing traffic lights on 183 (and 360) is the low hanging fruit of Austin's transportation challenges.

Kitchen spoke mainly in cliches.  We were amused by her call for a "comprehensive, strategic mobility plan," considering that 'comprehensive' and 'strategic' are go-to platitudes for government bureaucrats who don't have anything interesting to say.  More alarmingly, Kitchen referred multiple times to "looking at land use" and "nitty, gritty land use" issues as areas where she intends to focus.  It's not difficult to envision such a focus turning into an assault on private property rights.  But that's not a new threat and Kitchen didn't reveal any immediate plans.

Both officials spoke favorably of rail in the abstract, but neither seemed to think anything major was going to happen anytime soon.  Watson admitted that Lone Star Rail was probably dead "in its current form" and Kitchen (who is on both of the relevant boards) didn't contradict him.  Ending Lone Star rail would be a win for taxpayers.

As Senator Watson stated, Austin needs an open and transparent planning process.  That need would seem to argue against trying to force through a poorly conceived plan in 2016.  We will close with a warning that, if necessary, a bond opposition campaign only needs about six weeks to be successful.

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