GOVERNMENT SPENDING TRAVIS COUNTY

Travis to consider bicycle projects

Task force will return, discuss how to spend $3.3 million from bond.

ByAndra Lim ALIM@STATESMAN.COM

Travis County will soon renew discussions about how to spend the $3.3 million for bicycle projects included in a bond proposition voters approved in 2011.

Though the county recently started adding features such as bike lanes or paths when building new roads, this would mark its most comprehensive look at where cyclists would most benefit from such improvements.

“It’s a relatively recent phenomenon where people started recognizing cyclists can, and do, and should be using roads,” said James Murff, a member of the task force convened three years ago to discuss projects that could be funded with bond money. The task force will soon begin meeting again.

The bond money was initially intended to fund safety projects on county roads in unincorporated Travis County, but officials have indicated they may expand that scope, pending commissioners’ approval.

County Judge Sam Biscoe pointed out in commissioners’ Tuesday meeting that some bike lanes on Austin roads end abruptly at the city limits, and suggested collaborating with the city.

Murff, who said the county should extend city bike routes into unincorporated areas, also pointed out a gap in connectivity just outside Southwest Austin. Cyclists who frequent Fitzhugh Road and Circle Drive have to ride a short stretch on U.S. 290 to get from one to the other — a problem that could be solved with a bike path, Murff said.

County officials are also analyzing

whether the bond money could be used to fund bike lanes on state highways and improvements in county parks and city-county projects, such as the proposed 5-mile Austin-to-Manor trail.

Then there’s the original issue of safety.

Biscoe noted the county has paid settlements in a small number of bicycle crash cases. For instance, in 2011, Travis County commissioners offered $48,500 to a bicyclist who was injured after her front tire lodged in a large crack on Blake-Manor Road, causing her to fall over her handlebars.

Steve Manilla, the county executive for transportation and natural resources, said the county could do a better job of maintaining some roads that are popular with cyclists and notifying cyclists of potentially dangerous roads that don’t receive more maintenance.

Morgan Cotten, the county’s director of public works, said he didn’t know how many projects could be completed with $3.3 million, as it depends on their size and scope. Creating off-road bike paths costs $1 million a mile, while bike lanes are about $750,000 a mile, Cotten said.

Tom Wald, who will be an adviser to the county’s task force, said the money is a “small amount,” but will help the county play “catch up” to the city.

Manilla said the task force — which will include representatives from cycling groups, the city and the county — will also identify projects that could be funded with federal grants or through a future county bond election.

CONTACT ANDRA LIM AT 512-445-3972. TWITTER: @ANDRACLIM