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Debate over regional versus local control could have effect on area bike infrastructure spending

Posted Nov 01 2011 10:46pm

This is the first of periodic posts from Tom Wald, Executive Director of the League of Bicycling Voters .

The CAMPO Policy Board meetings, like most public meetings, charge no admission and provide little overt entertainment to the uninitiated. I’m not currently in a position to take a gonzo journalism approach to reporting from such meetings, though anything short of such an approach risks losing the interest of all but the most dedicated readers. You may be one of those readers who reads every word with bated breath.

For starters, I’ll give a very brief primer on two acronyms that I’ll use below:

  • CAMPO = Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization: This is the federally-mandated governmental body that manages transportation planning in our five-county Austin metropolitan area. Every large U.S. metro has an MPO. CAMPO filters all federal transportation funding that is allocated in the metro. A major principle that justifies this approach is that transportation infrastructure choices made in one jurisdiction within a metro will significantly affect the neighboring jurisdictions within the metro since many transportation trips within a metro cross jurisdictions.
  • STP-MM = Surface Transportation Program – Metropolitan Mobility: This is a category of federal transportation funds. Local and state jurisdictions can apply for these funds.
  • CTRMA = Central Texas Mobility Authority: They manage the Austin-metro toll road projects.
  • TxDOT = Texas Department of Transportation

The CAMPO Policy Board had a work session on October 31st. The board is comprised of 19 appointed public officials from over a dozen jurisdictions in the five-county CAMPO region, including City of Austin Councilmembers. The main item on the agenda was to determine which projects will be chosen for STP-MM federal funds for this call for projects. Any project that uses federal transportation funding must be vetted through CAMPO and its metro-region values.

There have already been several public meetings working toward a decision on how to allocate the STP-MM funds. In addition to the CAMPO Policy Board meetings, the CAMPO TAC has also met to analyze the possibilities. (The TAC, or Technical Advisory Committee, is comprised of staff from each of the CAMPO jurisdictions.) There were 170 applications for transportation projects, with applications from numerous metro jurisdictions, plus the CTRMA, and TxDOT. With so many eligible projects, with so many people making the decision, and with divergent and varied interests, the information and analysis is challenging to understand for just about everyone involved.

To keep the analysis under control, the CAMPO staff applied a point system based on values described in the CAMPO 2035 Plan . Then, CAMPO staff, with input from the Policy Board and the TAC, has provided different “scenarios” of lists of projects that would ultimately be funded.

At the Oct. 31st meeting, CAMPO Director, Maureen McCoy, presented an up-to-date analysis, with six current scenarios. Over a dozen scenarios have been considered over the last several weeks. All of the six Oct. 31st scenarios provide $1.76M for Bastrop County, for assistance in recovering from this summer’s wildfires. Two of these scenarios consider projects ranked by the raw score of the aforementioned point system. Two others cap the funding allocated to studies and programs (non-capital infrastructure projects) to 10% of total STP-MM funding. Of these two pairs, one in each pair includes $1.5M funding for CAMPO staffing and the other does not. The fifth scenario, called the “TAC Preferred” scenario, is based on raw score, with a CAMPO staffing set-aside, but reduces the minimum threshold for the spending set-aside on bike/ped and urban centers funding by approximately 3% of each set-aside. The sixth scenario shifts most of the funding decisions to individual jurisdictions within the CAMPO metro region.


Travis Co. Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt (center, facing), Austin City Councilmember Chris Riley (right, facing)

Notable bike/ped/transit funding advocates on the board are Sarah Eckhardt (Travis County Commission) and Chris Riley (Austin City Council). They challenged some aspects of the analysis that suggested bike/ped funding would be capped at 15%, when the 15% actually represents a mandatory threshold for bike/ped funding within STP-MM.

On the other side, Cynthia Long, Williamson County Commissioner, advocated for each local jurisdiction to make its own decision of how federal funding should be spent. Will Conley, Hays County Commissioner, advocated for a similar “geographic” distribution approach. These approaches essentially undermine the intent of having a metropolitan governing body that guides funding to projects that serve the metro region holistically. Said Commissioner Eckhardt of the geographic distribution approach, “it makes five separate ‘CAMPOs’”. She also noted several times that a geographic approach would likely neglect the 15% bike/ped and 50% urban centers STP-MM spending set-aside previously approved by the board.

Though Commissioner Eckhardt was the most vocal proponent of preserving the regional decision making authority of CAMPO, others gave strong concurring opinions. George Garver, Mayor of Georgetown, questioned the legality of undermining the metropolitan decision making process, given that the federal government requires such a metro-focused process.

Sam Biscoe, Travis County Judge and CAMPO Policy Board Chair, worked toward finding a process that would be amenable to both sides of the regional vs. geographic approaches debate. By the end, the approved process moving forward was to:

  • Continue with the TAC Preferred scenario as a starting point.
  • Receive input from each jurisdiction as to whether or not they want to swap projects (at an equal or lesser dollar amount) within their jurisdictions.
  • Make a decision at the Nov. 14th CAMPO Policy Board meeting based on the geographic/jurisdiction feedback.
  • The Nov. 14th meeting will make the remaining STP-MM funding decisions step-by-step: CAMPO staff set-aside, regional projects (those that cover more than one county), then the rest of the list. (The Bastrop County set-aside was already decided at the Oct. 19th CAMPO Policy Board meeting.)

So this essentially deferred the decision about regional vs. provincial (or geographic) planning to the Nov. 14th meeting, albeit with new specific information about how this will affect the STP-MM funding choices.

For email updates on the CAMPO decisions on STP-MM funding, you can sign up to the League of Bicycling Voters email list at lobv.org/join/ . Once there, you can also become a dues-paying member of the LOBV to support our work at CAMPO, the City of Austin, TxDOT, Travis County, and other jurisdictions to ensure that our transportation infrastructure continues to serve more and more people to go by bike. Much of our city’s recent bike infrastructure, including facilities that you likely use on a regular basis, only happened because we have members who support our work to advocate bicycling infrastructure. If you have never joined a non-profit, and you’re an A2W reader, this is first you should join.

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