transportation

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Citing timing and financial constraints, Mayor Lee Leffingwell is arguing funding for Urban Rail shouldn't be put to voters this November.

In a post on his website, Mayor Leffingwell writes "we do not yet have a sufficient level of certainty regarding a plan to fund and manage operations and maintenance of an urban rail system. We also do not yet have the degree of certainty that I would like to see as it relates to a prospective federal funding match for construction costs, which is a fundamental need."

He also notes that in addition to potential rail funding on the ballot this November, "we are also poised to ask [voters] to approve a host of other critically needed bond investments." 

This interview was originally broadcast on March 29, 2012.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

What’s the estimated cost of Austin’s first urban rail investment? $550 million.

That was the price tag the Austin City Council heard in a work session this morning. Assistant City Manager Robert Goode said some $550 million was required to build the first proposed phase of urban rail, from the convention center through the UT-Austin campus and on the Mueller neighborhood.

And while the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts funding program could cover roughly half of that, rail consultants said the city would need to cover the other $275 million, likely in large part through a bond election – should council place it on the ballot, and voters approve it.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Austin’s urban rail plans will take a major step tomorrow when a preliminary funding and phasing plan will be outlined during an Austin City Council work session.

The Austin Transportation Department sent out a memo last Thursday outlining initial phases of investment for urban rail. 

The first proposed phase would serve Downtown, the Capitol Complex, UT, Hancock Center and Mueller. Phase Two would cross the river and head down Riverside Drive to Pleasant Valley.

If a preliminary report holds true, the number of road deaths fell again in 2011. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 32,310 people died on highways last year, down almost 2 percent from the 32,885 people who died in 2010.

The Detroit News reports:

Image courtesy Department of Public Safety.

Starting today, new applicants for Texas driver’s licenses and IDs will have to meet stricter residency requirements.

First-time applicants have to meet all of the previous requirements, as well as present two additional documents that prove they live in Texas — like a current mortgage or lease agreement and a vehicle registration or title. You can view a complete list of acceptable documents to prove residency here

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

In Austin, it’s illegal to use your cell phone for anything other than phone calls while driving. That includes texting and surfing the internet. The ban went into effect January 1, 2010.

But is the ban making a difference?

The Austin Police Department told KUT that officers have written just 26 citations for texting while driving since the city’s ban took effect.

Cap Metro staff has proposed separate contractors for regualr bus routes and its paratransit services, pictured above.
Photo courtesy Flickr user i-Ride Capital Metro

Today, Capital Metro staff met with the agency Board of Directors to make recommendations on new contractor bids. Monday, the board will make a final decision.

These are the last few steps towards a new labor structure for Capital Metro. The changes are required to comply with a new state law that requires transit employees to either become employees of the state or to become employees of a private contractor. The union that represents most of the employees chose the latter option so they could retain collective bargaining rights.

The board will need to choose one contractor for employees of fixed-route bus services and another for employees of paratransit services (door-to-door services for people with disabilities). The board could also choose to have one contractor employ workers of both services.

A looming labor switchover means Capital Metro will only have about 200 direct employees.
Photo by Emily Donahue for KUT News

This summer, some 850 workers will no longer be directly employed by transit authority Capital Metro, or its non-profit contractor StarTran — instead, they’ll be contracted out to a soon-to-be named private company.

It’s a change that has to be made because of a state law passed last year, requiring transit employees to either become state employees or employees of a private contractor. The union that represents most of the workers chose the contractor option, as to maintain collective bargaining rights.

Tomorrow, staff will recommend to the Capital Metro Board of Directors which of the contractor bids it believes is best. They may recommend one contractor for fixed route services (regular bus lines), and another for paratransit services (door-to-door service for people with disabilities). Staff may also recommend a single contractor for both.

"Americans now walk the least of any industrialized nation in the world," says writer Tom Vanderbilt. To find out why that is, Vanderbilt has been exploring how towns are built, how Americans view walking — and what might be done to get them moving around on their own two feet.

Talking with Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep about what is wrong with Americans' relationship with walking, Vanderbilt says, "The main thing is, we're just not doing enough of it."

Pedicab rules regarding insurance, fares and more passed at a City Council meeting today.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/atmtx

While the city regulates and considers improvements to pedicab services, no new permits will be issued for six months. 

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Capital Metro announced today that it has received $38 million from the Federal Transit Administration to help cover the cost of the MetroRapid program.

The funds come from the administration’s "Very Small Start" program and will cover about 80 percent of the program’s $48 million cost, said Linda Watson, the president and CEO of Capital Metro.

“That’s tax money that Texans pay coming back to Texas,” Watson said. “So it’s a great day not only for Capital Metro and our customers, but for Central Texas and taxpayers in the whole state of Texas.”

Shoup photo courtesy shoup.bol.ucla.edu; parking photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

There’s no such thing as a free lunch – and no such thing as free parking, according to an influential author speaking in Austin today.

The Urban Transportation Commission and City Council Member Chris Riley are hosting a conversation this evening with Donald Shoup. Shoup’s 2005 book, The High Cost of Free Parking, argues that on-street parking is a valuable commodity in cities, and should be priced accordingly to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution.

KUT News spoke with Shoup this morning. He noted the University  of Texas campus was a perfect example of some of the arguments he’s made.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/nffcnnr

A dispute over federal transportation funding has some state and local governments worried. But the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDot) says if funding dries up, Texas can float construction costs for up to three months.

The U.S. Senate passed a $109 billion transportation bill nearly two weeks ago. But since then, the measure has garnered little traction in the House, as Republican legislators have rallied behind an alternate budget with deeper spending cuts, according to Washington DC journal The Hill.

As of this writing, the House just passed a 90-day extension of transportation funding. Should the Senate approve the same measure, it will prevent federal funds from hitting the skids this Saturday.

Callie Hernandez/KUT News

We’re not sure what’s up with today’s Austin City Council meeting, filled with action on several long-simmering items. The council holds another meeting next week before heading into spring break, so it’s not like council has to cram everything into this meeting. But they pretty much did. Here's a rundown:

… And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Lights: Item 15 on the agenda inks an agreement with the RunTex Foundation to sponsor the Trail of Lights, that holiday event at Zilker Park that went dark due to budget cuts. As we wrote earlier this week, many see the proposal as a win-win, while others decry the privatization of a publicly-run event.

Taxi Drivers: Items 30 and 31 award new permits to Austin taxi franchises: 30 more for Lone Star Cab, and 15 more for Austin Cab. The item is up on second reading, meaning should it be successful today, a third and final vote is still required. And the meter’s still running: If and when these 45 are awarded, council is expected to offer an additional 35 new permits this summer.

Image courtesy airportboulevard.com

Airport Boulevard – or at least the bustling but non-scenic stretch of it from the Mueller development to its terminus at North Lamar – may look and function a whole lot differently in the future.

For the past several months, the City of Austin, designers and planners have worked on a plan to beautify the urban thoroughfare, making it more multimodal and pedestrian friendly. Tonight, at a meeting of the city’s Design Commission, we’ll see the result of that work, as the commission discusses and may take action on recommendations in the Airport Boulevard Corridor Study Report.

So why this stretch of asphalt? Its location has several things going for it: The ongoing infill development at the former Mueller airport speaks to the area’s redevelopment potential; so does ailing Highland Mall, the largely-vacant retail destination center that Austin Community College has a large stake in. Then there’s the new Midtown Commons development at North Lamar, located on the Capital Metro Red Line.

Ben Philpott, KUT News

Perry’s Security Costs Soar

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has been releasing travel-related security costs incurred by Gov. Rick Perry during his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. However, the totals haven’t included overtime pay. The Texas Tribune requested the overtime amounts:

“In the six months in which Perry was an active presidential candidate, DPS spent $1.1 million on overtime pay for the Executive Protection Bureau – more than the total overtime pay for the security detail in all of 2010, records show. ”

In December, during Perry’s tour of Iowa, DPS spending costs came close to $300,000.

Let's take a midweek look at the top Austin and Central Texas stories from KUT.org and StateImpact Texas, KUT's reporting partnership with NPR.

LCRA About to Finalize Water Plan Through 2020

A vote is imminent on a plan that would regulate water use from the Highland Lakes to the Gulf Coast until 2020. The Lower Colorado River Authority heard public comment Tuesday from a wide range of people on its water management plan.

“It’s really hard for me to be speaking here today, because we are staring down the devastation of the drought of 2011,” said Janet Caylor, representing businesses on Lake Travis. “And as y’all are aware, there have already been multiple bankruptcies, loss of jobs, many are struggling to stay in business.”

Photo by Wyatt McSpadden, courtesy University of Texas

Could rush hour gridlock turn into relaxation time for Texas drivers?

University of Texas researcher Peter Stone and his fellow project members at UT’s Autonomous Intersection Management (AIM) project have been receiving attention with a provocative concept: creating “smart” intersections linked to intelligent autos that will enable cars to drive themselves. Stone’s research was recently presented at a meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science.

Stone is no stranger to automotive technology; five years ago, he was part of a team that responded to a development challenge from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create a vehicle that could pilot itself. “Since then, in 2007, we’ve had a car which can drive itself,” Stone says.

Photo by KUT News

It's Wednesday, which can only mean one thing: A mid-week round-up of news in Austin and Central Texas from KUT.org, our reporting partner StateImpact Texas, and our friends at KUHF Houston:

New Austin City Website Still Ironing Out Kinks (KUT News)

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