Austinites pass bond to improve transportation

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Austin residents passed a $90 million bond to improve roadways and construct bike lanes and sidewalks on Tuesday.

Get Austin Moving, a political action committee in favor of the Strategic Mobility Bond, or Proposition 1, celebrated at Shoal Creek Saloon on Tuesday evening.

“It’s a smart decision for a smart city,” said committee treasurer Ted Siff. “Transportation solutions will happen faster, cheaper and better because the voters and the majority have passed Proposition 1.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell said the City Council’s messages got across to voters that something needed to be done now to alleviate mobility issues.

“We have to make progress. This is the first step. Traffic is not going to be better than when it was this morning,” Leffingwell said. “We are already planning the next step. Gradually we’re going to get a handle on this thing.”

Leah Fillion, spokeswoman for the city’s transportation department, said they determined what projects should be prioritized through community input from different methods of outreach and surveys.

“We figured out a priority list with the highest wants in the community,” Fillion said.

Target start dates for construction depends on each individual project, Fillion said.

“Some of them are ready to go, shovel at the ready,” she said. “These projects would be immediately funded. Some projects are still ideas that need developing. All the projects would be in different stages.”

The most expensive project on the Strategic Mobility Plan will be spent on roadway reconstruction, with a proposed bond funding of $19.5 million. A boardwalk trail on Lady Bird Lake is budgeted for a proposed amount of $14.4 million.

Tom Wald, the executive director of League of Bicycling Voters, said with any growing city, officials need to pay more attention to different modes of transportation. He said people want more choices and safer routes.

“The idea of completing the bicycle network is to not just serve the needs of bicyclists but to serve the needs of more Austinites who want to bike but can’t because there’s not a complete and safe network,” Wald said. “The conditions right now are pretty poor. It’s going to take some time to complete the bike network.”

Transportation engineering professor Chandra Bhat said improving transportation issues would not be as effective as reducing demand on the roads.

“Investing money in simply improving roadways is a catch-22,” Bhat said. “You widen roadways and you design new roadways and more people want travel, and it gets congested again. That is an issue with pumping in money and only improving the supply side of it and not doing anything to reduce the demand.”

Bhat said he doesn’t think the proposition is going to relieve traffic congestion right away but has the potential to help in the long term.

“The improvements are a bit isolated, and can help relieve some congestion in certain areas,” he said. “But for a region as a whole, I don’t think it’s any kind of magic bullet that will relieve congestion tomorrow.”