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Tuesday, April 15, 2008
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Published Tuesday, April 15, 2008 2:10 AM

Transportation costs at issue in forum

College Station City Council candidates sparred Monday evening over how to pay for $100 million worth of transportation needs.

The discussion came during a forum hosted by the city's east side neighborhood associations. The election is May 10.

Incumbent Councilman John Crompton and Planning and Zoning Commissioner Derek Dictson are vying for the Place 1 council seat. Mayor Pro Tem Ron Gay and former Councilman Dennis Maloney are seeking the Place 3 post, and newcomer Larry Stewart is challenging incumbent Chris Scotti for Place 5.

The campaigns have pitted the real estate community against neighborhoods, candidates have acknowledged.

Dictson, Gay and Scotti have financial support from builders and developers, while the campaigns of Crompton, Maloney and Stewart are backed by neighborhood representatives.

The east side neighborhoods that hosted Monday's event mobilized about two years ago when developers proposed to build a Wal-Mart SuperCenter on the corner of Rock Prairie Road and Earl Rudder Freeway. This is the second year the neighborhoods have held a candidate forum.

"Every level of our political situation demands the best we can get," said Blanche Brick, a College Station resident who moderated the forum in which about 100 people attended. "We are here tonight to listen and learn."

The candidates discussed how they would accommodate population growth by building new roads and maintaining old ones.

"A lot of folks don't realize the majority of our major thoroughfares are [Texas Department of Transportation] roads," Scotti said. "The state is running out of money. The city of College Station is going to have to come up with more money to maintain the roads. We've got a bond issue coming up. While I really like the idea of parks and a community center, I really think our focus [with the bond funds] needs to be on transportation."

Stewart said he would consider imposing impact fees on new development.

"Why are we $100 million behind [in transportation needs]?" he asked. "I think it's because we allowed development to go in without paying for infrastructure, so you are paying for the roads that are out there being used. The developer isn't paying for them."

Dictson said impact fees don't provide a perfect solution.

"It all gets passed on to the homeowner," he said. "They increase the price of your house, and the cost of living goes up. I don't believe in raising taxes and raising fees to the point that we're driving development away."

Crompton said he supports impact fees and also wants to propose a "transportation user fee" on a referendum. The measure, if approved, would add a tax to residents' utility bills, and the money collected would go in a fund to pay solely for transportation needs.

"The developers will probably vigorously oppose [impact fees]," Crompton said. "Whether or not they are implemented is going to depend on who is on the City Council."

Gay was adamant in his stance that the city can afford to pay for transportation projects if the budget is re-examined.

"I reject the idea that you have to raise taxes to pay for roads," he said. "I'm for the city getting back to re-prioritizing its spending so we spend money on the things that city governments do well. We can build more roads, and we can do it within the current budget and taxing structure."

Maloney said the city should take a multifaceted approach to solving traffic problems.

"We need to look at transportation differently," he said. "We need to look at it as one complete system. The best transportation plan is one that requires the least transportation. Let's think about that when we design neighborhoods. Let's coordinate our traffic lights and install red light cameras. Install bicycle lanes. If you build them, they will pedal."

• April Avison's e-mail address is april.avison@theeagle.com.





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