George McLemore the city, recently wrote, “At present, making West Austin a transportation artery holds many fears for West Austin citizens. The development of these arteries can only mean that those residents of West Austin who are able to do so will move out. We will have only magnified the vicious circle of having to create more thoroughfare for more people to commute to the university, capitol, and downtown.” If what urban planners all over the country say is true, then Jarrell’s fears are very real indeed. Their diagnosis of urban ills, from cities like New York and Cleveland to a host of smaller ones, reads the same. Planners, so convinced and so familiar with the problems freeways and the overdependence on autos pose, explain it like this … .Freeways make middleclass exodus to the suburbs feasible and expressway construction further chews into the city tax base. The growth of land around the city into suburban communities eventually takes jobs away from the city. The loss of these jobs makes it necessary to place even greater taxes on the earning power of those who remain. Downtown merchants follow their customers out to the suburbs and build the great regional shopping centers. And so the spiral continues. … Right now, Austin, with a dwindling residential core and an expanding residential periphery, shows signs of going the route that so many other cities have taken, according to a 1975 study by the UT Bureau of Business Research. The traffic pull exerted by MoPac and the completed I.H. 35 will just move the _middleand upper classes out of town even faster. West Austin residents, organized and well-educated about Freeway evils, are putting up a good fight against MoPac extension. The hottest battleground has been within the Austin Transportation federal funds to be spent in the Austin metropolitan area. The Transportation Study, composed of two committees and a technical staff, is hard at work preparing an ambitious 20-year master transit plan for Austin: It could cost upwards to a billion dollars. The committees and the staff, however, have differing visions of Austin’s future. The policy committee, made up of elected officials, favor a strong commitment to mass transportation, while the steering committee, mostly traffic engineers who claim they want mass transit, have shown a preference for transportation solutions that encourage more cars and highways. This is the classic transportation planning conflict that has shaped up all over the country mass transit vs. private automobile. POLICY COMMITTEE member Sen. Lloyd Doggett thinks the. highway department intended the policy committee to be a rubber stamp, but this backfired. The policy committee and the steering committee fought it out last spring concerning who would have final say over project approval and federal funding. Both committees ended up with equal powers they have to be in agreement before they can pull the federal pursestrings. Of the eight-member policy committee, a majority committed to mass transit Doggett and State Reps. Gonzalo Barrientos, Sarah Weddington, Ronnie Earle, and Wilhelmina Delco can veto any plans they find unacceptable. So far they have found a lot to criticize in the plans from the technical staff. Most of the policy committee consider the technical staff an extension of the highway department. Director of the staff, Max Ulrich, is a freeway designer on loan from the highway department’s District 14 office. Ann Richards, proxy for Weddington on ATS matters, said, “Max still refers to Travis Long [District 14 head] as ‘boss.’ Most of the data the staff gives us comes out of the highway department. The only thing they [the technical staff] have done is keep an office in a separate geographical location.” Ulrich says this isn’t the case, and he’s quick to point out that the staff includes members with other areas of expertise, such as rail transit. Nevertheless, the inbred relationship of the ATS technical staff and the highway department has been frustrating for the policy members who have suggested alternatives and modifications to the two At the June meeting, the highway planners slipped through approval of MoPac frontage roads by burying it in an inch-thick agenda packet innocuously called “Traffic Improvements Program.” Most of the policy committee members did not realize they had voted in favor of the project until much later. Doggett, who was not at the meeting, calls the ATS staff’s inclusion of MoPac in the agenda “a grievous attempt to sneak things by.” Barrientos’ aide, Richard Hamner, said, “I can’t believe they tried to put it over on us.” When they realized what had happened, Doggett and Richards tried to get the group to reconsider the action on the MoPac go-ahead. Travis Long, who originally said at the June meeting the traffic program could be amended, insisted the traffic improvement program would not be changed. Finally, in September, just after city council hired an independent planning firm to do the first environmental impact statement of the completed MoPac section, Doggett drew up a resolution which stated the policy committee withdrew its approval for construction and right of way purchase for the southern extension of MoPac. If passed, it would cut off federal funds for the project. In the weeks before the meeting, Ulrich told at least one policy committee member that the MoPac discussion would take place. But when the meeting was convened MoPac wasn’t on the agenda. The policy committee members were furious. There ensued a fight between the policy members and the steering committee, one side October 31, 1975 13 transit options both committees have decided on for Austin a light rail system and an expressway busway system. Lately the committees have stopped fighting about the relative merits of busways and light rail to lock horns over Austin’s bete noire MoPac.
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