Glenn Gaven : The Sad Saga of Austin’s $10 Million Concrete Path

Austin City Councilman Chris Riley on his trusty steed.
Image from chrisforaustin.com.

Taken for a ride:
The sad saga of the
$10 million concrete path

It is no coincidence that this segment of concrete treasure will run along part of Austin Councilmember Chris Riley’s pet project, a New Urbanist rezoning wet dream known as the Airport Boulevard Renovation Project.

By Glenn Gaven | The Rag Blog | April 9, 2013

AUSTIN — With a zillion bicyclists and a historically dismal voting turnout, Austin, Texas, is a city where the bicycle lobby has more power than the Koch brothers. Realizing this, the transit authority, Capital Metro, and train enthusiasts turned to the two-wheeled mafia for help in passing a 2004 referendum to build a train system to bring commuters from the suburbs into the city.

The package the transit authority created was branded “All Systems Go,” and promised a glorious system of bicycle trails alongside the 162 miles of train track the Authority had already purchased over the years using the generous 1% sales tax dedicated to transit. The trail was to be built by 2007.

The referendum, which also promised a Bus Rapid Transit component by 2007 that has yet to be seen, passed and it was full steam ahead.

By 2007 the transit authority boasted having already spent 7.2 million dollars on the “Rails with Trails” program. That money had been spent on a feasibility study and presumably other prep work like surveying and engineering studies as no actual trail was in evidence as recently as January 2013.

In 2009, Capital Metro was awarded an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant for $1.9 million in free stimulus money to build bike trails. As you may recall the major stipulations for ARRA grants were that projects be “shovel ready,” and create new jobs. The transit authority happily accepted the money and promised the bike path would be built by 2010.

In February 2013, Smith Construction began demolishing a nearly new sidewalk adjacent a short section of Airport Blvd. to replace it with a “concrete path,” using $787,386 of the ARAA money. With the obligatory overruns associated with all Capital Metro contracts, Smith will likely collect a cool million to build the .9 (yes 9-tenths!) mile pathway that will run alongside a long-established bike lane, where there was already a sidewalk.

The rest of the money was given to McGray & McGray Land Surveyors and Klotz Associates, Inc, for “surveys” and “engineering studies.”

It is no coincidence that this segment of concrete treasure will run along part of Austin Councilmember Chris Riley’s pet project, a New Urbanist rezoning wet dream known as the Airport Boulevard Renovation Project. Riley and fellow Councilmember Mike Martinez represent Austin on the transit authority’s board of directors by night.

So, for a total of at least $10 million (7.2 + 1.9 + 15% built-in overruns etc.) we get almost a mile of what is basically a sidewalk where there was already a sidewalk and already a bike lane. According to City of Austin sidewalk coordinator John Eastman a .9 mile sidewalk outside of downtown typically costs $570,000. Those of us who used it can attest to its functionality and newness. That sidewalk is gone. Gone also is most of our $10 million which went into the pockets of consultants and contractors who have grown fat over the years feeding at the public troughs kept full by Mike Martinez and Chris Riley.

Next year, Riley and Martinez, along with the contractors like Paul Bury who built Martinez’ mansion, and train enthusiasts like Lyndon Henry and Glenn Gadbois will be asking Austin voters to give them the money to build a billion-dollar streetcar system in downtown Austin. Bicycling voters will determine yea or nay. It should only take the 90 seconds or so ride on Airport Blvd. between the Lamar Blvd. and Highland Mall to decide if we got our $10 million worth the last time.

[Glenn Gaven is a long-time Austin union activist who worked with the UT Shuttle Workers Union (ATU Local #1549) and was co-founder of the Bus Riders Union-ATX. Read more articles by Glenn Gaven on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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