Volume 20, Issue 40 - October 7, 2022

Public funding for transit projects is now flowing to most states
By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc.

When Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, it allocated $102 billion for rail-related projects in America. Another $50 million was authorized for annual disbursement to incentivize smaller transit-oriented projects. That’s a lot of available funding making it obvious that Congress intends to make public transportation attractive, safe, and convenient.


Mandates and rules for allocating the new funding make it clear that connecting intercity passenger rail access is a top priority. For almost all of 2022, there has been a steady stream of proposals, plans, and studies related to projects that will result in new or restored regional passenger rail systems. A massive number of new rail projects will launch in 2023.

In late September, transportation departments from Utah, Idaho, and Nevada contacted the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to express interest in creating an interstate passenger rail system to connect major metropolitan centers. This effort will focus on the cities of Boise, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas. A proposed development plan, with cost estimates and project specifics, is expected to become public soon.

In the cities of Milwaukee and Chicago, a $53 million intercity passenger rail project is moving rapidly toward launch. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is working with its counterpoint in Minnesota to finalize the project’s design. The objective is to add an additional daily round-trip passenger rail service between Chicago, Illinois, and Minnesota.

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Austin Corridor Program Office provides project updates for Corridor Construction Program

The city of Austin Corridor Program Office (CPO) provided an update and memo to Austin City Council October 4 on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 status of the 2016 Bond-funded Corridor Construction Program (CCP) designed to enhance safety, connectivity and mobility on nine key Austin corridors.

Key updates in the memo include:

  • Thirteen large corridor projects totaling over $120 million will be in procurement or construction by the end of calendar year (CY) 2022.

  • Approximately $200 million in construction projects will be completed or in progress by the first quarter of CY 2023.

  • The program projects 75 miles of shared use paths or sidewalks and 100 bike route connections across all corridors.

  • The project remains on schedule to have all projects completed or under construction by the end of CY 2024 as per the goal outlined in the 2016 Mobility Bond Contract With Voters.

  • Large construction projects are in progress on Slaughter Lane, Airport Boulevard, and Burnet Road.

The memo also announced that CPO has leveraged 2016 Bond funding to obtain grant funding and additional opportunities and add an additional $70 million in project funding for a total of $550 million. CPO recently completed three new preliminary engineering studies on South Pleasant Valley Road, Menchaca Road, and West Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for future corridor improvements.

City of Austin to request federal funding for study of I-35.

In the spring of 2022, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) launched its $1 billion Reconnecting Communities pilot program, and the city of Austin plans to request funding for Interstate 35. The city will submit the study “Our Future 35: Connecting Equitably” to USDOT.

The proposed planning study has an estimated cost of $1.4 million. The award of any grant funds will require the city to match funding by entering into an Agreement for Award with the USDOT. Final grant applications are due on October 13, 2022.

The USDOT’s $1 billion pilot will provide $250 million in planning costs and $750 million in capital projects for communities to restore connectivity through removal, retrofit, mitigation, or replacement of eligible transportation infrastructure.

The Our Future 35: Connecting Equitably Study will identify discrete, strategic actions and recommendations for improvements including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Identify how new caps and stitches will tie into surrounding multimodal transportation networks (including vehicular, transit, bike, pedestrian, and recreational networks) to provide equitable mobility options. 

  • Work alongside our recently initiated Developing Equitably Study to identify supportive mobility improvements to affordable housing, local businesses, other community benefits and anti-displacement efforts.  

  • Extend our understanding of transit needs and priorities for serving the new destinations created with caps and stitch amenities.  

  • Evaluate the environmental justice and health impacts of proposed transportation investments on residents, including improved air quality, increased shade, easy access to transportation options, and connectivity to healthy food options. 
Brazoria County ponders the need for a new detention center

The Brazoria County Commissioners Court will commission a needs assessment to determine whether to expand the county detention center. The county will provide qualified companies with the opportunity to bid on conducting this assessment and to project how much an expansion project would cost.

The assessment will study the demographics, give commissioners some recommendations on how and when they need to expand the jail, and look at trends and the complexities of the county jail. Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act Lost Revenue program will cover the cost of the assessment.

The capacity of the current detention center is 1,200 and the county sheriff currently has approximately 1,000 inmates. As the jail population continues to grow there will be a need at some point to expand the jail, according to county officials.

Saluting Texas' Lone Stars

Daniel Avitia

Executive Director 

Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

Public career and education highlights: 

I am a lifelong Texan and have spent more than 25 years working in state government at various agencies and institutions. I joined the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles in 2014 as director of the Motor Vehicle Division, was named deputy executive director in 2020, and appointed executive director in 2022. I was humbled and honored to be selected to lead this amazing agency and its dedicated staff.

What I like best about my public service is: The most rewarding part of public service is being able to leverage my skills and abilities to serve our business community and the citizens of Texas. Every day I come to work thankful for the opportunities I’ve had and ready and willing to serve others. 

The best advice I’ve received is: It is essential to have the support of a trusted professional outside your area of expertise or knowledge. Someone outside your industry can provide un-biased, no-nonsense feedback about your ideas and strategies. 

My favorite way to de-stress is: Music is a fantastic way to de-stress. I play the guitar and sing to relax. But you’ll have to take my word on the singing, because I only do that when I am alone!  

People might be surprised to know that I: In my personal life, I am a very quiet and private person, but the people I work with would probably not believe that. In my professional life, I love meeting and getting to know co-workers, customers and industry stakeholders. Public speaking is a joy when I am presenting ideas to audiences and sharing ideas. However, once I am outside the professional setting, I am very reserved. Don’t expect me to ask a stranger in the grocery store how they make their kale taste edible (but I do love to cook).

One thing I wished more people knew about Texas Department of Motor Vehicles is: If you have a registration sticker and license plate on your car then you are probably already aware that TxDMV titles and registers vehicles. But some of the other important services we provide might surprise you. We license motor vehicle dealers, credential commercial motor carriers, issue oversize/overweight permits, investigate complaints against dealers and motor carriers, and award grants to law enforcement agencies to reduce motor vehicle crimes. One thing some folks are often surprised to find out is that TxDMV does not issue driver licenses.

              SPI Welcomes Fred Aus              

Fred Aus joins the SPI Team with more than two decades of experience working with government and industry groups at the intersection of infrastructure, public policy and government relations. Fred has worked extensively in the water resources, water/wastewater utility, and electric utility industries, and his expertise will be of great value to the consulting team and clients of SPI.  

Fred’s work included the formation of numerous coalitions with shared interests. His efforts have involved initiatives and infrastructure projects that covered numerous political subdivisions and many diverse stakeholders. Fred understands what it takes to build support from both public and private sector individuals. He is adept at understanding how to shape priorities and strategic goals for success. 

During his twelve-year tenure at the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), Fred managed the organization’s internal and external government affairs teams. He next accepted the position of executive director at the Texas Rural Water Association and directed a team charged with representing and training more than 700 water and wastewater utilities throughout the state of Texas.  

Fred’s early legislative career started at the Texas Capitol as a committee clerk for the House Land & Resource Management Committee and as a legislative aide to its chairman. Later, serving as a senior policy analyst for the Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee, he gained experience and developed expertise in dealing with elected officials, public officials, and industry and constituency groups on numerous issues.  

Fred earned his B.A. in History from the University of Texas at Austin and he is a loyal Longhorn supporter.

Big Spring seeks consultant for Airport Layout Plan

The Texas Department of Transportation is working with the city of Big Spring and the Big Spring McMahon-Wrinkle Airport to develop an update to the Airport Layout Plan (ALP). To assist with the development of the ALP, a consultant will be awarded a contract. The consultant will develop a Capital Improvement Plan, including a recommended phasing plan and financial overview that considers local, state, federal, and alternative funding sources.

The chosen consultant also will establish attainable goals for airport improvements and development based on forecast for aviation demand and critical aircraft. Other professional services to be provided by the consultant include:

  • Prepare and update the ALP with narrative consistent with the most current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) advisory circulars and standard operating procedures.
  • Prepare and update the Airport Property Map (APM).
  • Develop and adopt local zoning airport height hazard protection and airport land use compatibility measures, including associated maps, to ensure the protection of the public investment in the airport.
  • Develop a schedule of rates and charges.
  • Develop minimum standards for fixed based operations.
  • Development of the Joint Airport Zoning Board.

Request for qualifications is due by October 27, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. CDT.

Gladys Porter Zoo announces $25M master renovation plan

Brownsville — This week, the Gladys Porter Zoo announced a $25 million master plan to be built in five phases over 10 years.

The first phase is constructing the two-seater, 150-foot-tall zipline; the zoo is already planning the $800,000 project with the manufacturer. Phase two includes expanding the lion exhibit, a new nocturnal exhibit, renovating the Small World exhibit to include meerkats, inclusive play areas, and amenities for special-needs children and adults, and is estimated to cost $12 million. Phase three will see the construction of a new restaurant, relocating the mandrill exhibit, and a new cape hunting dog exhibit, estimated at $ 4.2 million. Phase four is the relocation of the animal care facility costing $9 million. Phase five includes a new event center, renovating the tiger exhibit, and adding giraffe feeding platform estimated to cost $4.8 million.

The zoo’s executive director said expanding the lion habitat is necessary to remain accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums — losing accreditation could be devastating to the zoo’s rare and endangered animal breeding program.

The master plan includes expanding the zoo beyond its current borders by acquiring land from Brownsville ISD to expand parking, new zoo administration facilities and zoo entry, building a tunnel over East Ringgold Street, an African savanna or forest exhibit, and a themed hotel and boardwalk with restaurants and retail.

Brownsville mayor said the city has allocated $5 million to the zoo for infrastructure and drainage and the zoo could pursue more funding through private benefactors, foundations or city allocations.

Royal ISD considers school renovation, expansion for 2023 bond election

October 6, committee members began discussing potential projects for placement on an upcoming bond to be voted on in May 2023. Considerations for the bond include meeting legal and safety requirements for the currently over capacity and growing district.

Potential projects include a new elementary school and a new agricultural expo center, estimated to cost $45 million and $12.4 million, respectively. Committee members were told that to accommodate growing enrollment, the district will need to build three elementary schools, two junior high schools, and one high school.

The committee is also considering renovating existing buildings to meet the growing demands of the district.

Estimates for potential projects:

  • Early childhood center renovations: $4.13 million.
  • Build a STEM classroom in the elementary school and renovations: $10.25 million.
  • Junior high renovations: $5.96 million.
  • High school renovations: $6.65 million.
  • STEM Academy renovations: $5.56 million.
  • Transportation center renovations: $4.6 million.

Priority one projects to meet legal and safety requirements and critical upgrades must be completed within 1-3 years. Priority two projects to include curricular and lifestyle projects should be completed within 3-5 years. Priority three enhancement projects may be completed within 6-10 years.

Committee members will tour new and potential residential developments October 8 as they consider their options to proceed.

San Antonio International Airport to privatize parking

The current parking system is outdated and overloaded as San Antonio and surrounding communities continue to grow. The airport is looking for a private company to take over its parking system and enact important upgrades and expansion.

The city will seek proposals to privatize the parking system within the next 8 weeks and it could take up to a year to implement changes. Interested companies are expected to offer continued employment to the city workers, or else airport officials will find similar jobs in other departments. Private companies can submit proposals to take over any or all the parking functions including shuttle buses and equipment maintenance.

Ideally, moving to privatization will make the airport more profitable without raising costs for flyers and remain competitive with nearby Austin-Bergstrom International Airport as it begins a 10-year plan to build a new terminal and additional parking.

First permit acquired to build desalination plant in Corpus Christi

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a water rights permit to Corpus Christi. Acquiring the permit is one of the first steps to building the largest seawater desalination facility in Texas. The proposed Inner Harbor location is near the residential Hillcrest neighborhood and the ship channel. The location may come online in the next decade and cost more than $236 million.

The water rights permit relates to the environmental impact of waste produced by the facility and allows an amount of water intake from the Gulf to be processed. Acquiring the permit is an important step in addressing the high demand for water in the area. Securing a water source is necessary for the city to attract new businesses and residents.

Negotiations continue to purchase 12.5 acres for the future facility; city staff expect the details to be finalized by the end of the year.

The city needs to now acquire a second permit for waste discharge; the permit allows a certain volume of wastewater to be disposed at specified locations. City officials hope to receive the permit late this year or early 2023.

The city of Corpus Christi and the port are considering building two desalination facilities each and a fifth is being built by Corpus Christi Polymers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may not accept the port’s permit because of the port’s application which has not yet had a complete federal review. The Inner Harbor waste discharge permit application has also not yet been subject to EPA review.

Round Rock ready to rebid Heritage Trail West, construction to resume 2023

Round Rock City Council is looking to rebid the Heritage Trail West project by the end of 2022, after the original contractor filed for bankruptcy late last year.

The Heritage Trail West project, originally a $7.3 million contract in 2020, will connect a one-mile space between Chisolm Trail Road and North Mays Street beside Bushy Creek.

The City Council is looking for sealed proposals to select the next contractor by comparing experience, financial stability, and other factors.

The original contractors began construction in January 2021, and a Parks and Recreation official said the trail was 20-25% complete; the new contractor will take over liability for the upgrade project.

The city hopes to rebid the project by the end of the year and resume construction in early 2023.

Voters to decide on $346M bond for UMC

A recent petition has now changed the decision-making process for the El Paso County Commissioners Court on a nearly $346 million bond request by the University Medical Center (UMC) of El Paso. Voters could decide in May 2023, pending approval by the Commissioners Court. Originally, the Commissioners Court was going to vote on UMC’s bond request in September, but the vote was postponed when a petition containing 32,311 valid signatures was produced.

UMC requested authorization from the Commissioners Court in June to issue certificates of obligation, which does not require voter approval from residents. The funding request is for a burn treatment center, an intensive care unit, nine additional operating rooms, a 26-bed expansion of El Paso Children’s Hospital, and a cancer treatment center.

Yoskowitz named executive director of TPWD

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has named David Yoskowitz, Ph.D. the new executive director of the agency. Yoskowitz is currently the senior executive director and Endowed Chair for Socioeconomics at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

TPWD Commissioners took action to accept the recommendation of the search committee in a public meeting. The search committee included TPW Commission Chairman Arch Aplin, and commissioners Anna Galo, Jeffery Hildebrand, and Oliver Bell.

At Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Yoskowitz served in many roles including professor of environmental economics, associate director for research, policy and development, Endowed Chair for Socioeconomics, and since 2020 the senior executive director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI).

Carter Smith, TPWD’s current executive director, announced his retirement in June after almost 15 years of leading the department. Smith’s retirement will be effective January 2023. Yoskowitz will be working closely with Smith, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, and other TPWD executive staff on transitioning into the role in the coming months. 

Editor’s note: This announcement is a corrected version of information from an article that ran in the Texas Government Insider Newsletter on September 30.

Richardson appoints first director of economic development

Richardson City Manager Don Magner has appointed Jenny Mizutowicz to serve as the city’s first director of economic development. Mizutowicz comes to the city from The University of Texas (UT) at Dallas, where she has served as the manager of economic development initiatives since 2019. Prior to coming to UT Dallas, she worked for the city of Carrollton for two years as its manager of economic development.

In August, the Richardson City Council approved the creation of the Department of Economic Development and dedication of nearly $1.4 million for economic development initiatives.

AFC selects new commander

The Army Futures Command (AFC) has selected Gen. James Rainey, who took command October 4 following a ceremony at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library. The AFC, which was established four years ago, is a key component of the Army’s long-term modernization strategy.

Rainey served in Washington, D.C., as deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and training from June 2021 to October 2022. Rainey previously served as commander of the Combined Arms Center from 2019-2021 and as the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division from 2015-2017.

Rainey took the reins from Lt. Gen. James Richardson, who served as the acting commander following the retirement of AFC’s first leader, Gen. Mike Murray, in December 2021, as the Army worked through who would be nominated to the job.

UTEP to build Advanced Teaching and Learning Complex

The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) plans to build an Advanced Teaching and Learning Complex at a cost of $95 million. The facility will bring together multiple science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) programs promoting an atmosphere of student learning, collaboration, and success.

Collaborative learning environments will be integrated with community outreach areas to strengthen adult centered learning. Opportunities for students, faculty, staff and the wider community to share knowledge and learn together will be supported through design.

UTEP has identified two potential sites on the campus, of which one site will be eliminated during the programming phase. A virtual pre-submittal conference will be held October 19, 2022, at 1:30 p.m.

This request for qualifications for a construction manager at risk is due October 26 and the chosen short-listed firms will bid for the request for proposals beginning November 9.

Brenham ISD to vote on $136M for school updates

Brenham ISD upcoming bond election in November will present two propositions to voters.

Proposition A proposes building a new junior high school for an estimated $111 million to be available for student use in August 2025. The new building will increase student capacity and improve safety and security measures.

Proposition B plans to renovate and expand the Career and Technical Education Department for an estimated $25 million to be completed in Fall of 2024. The CTE improvements will meet demand for the local workforce after the department saw an increase of about 650 student this term since 2020-2021 school year.

BISD is not considering renovating the existing buildings to be a viable option to meet the district’s needs.

Potential 5-year economic development plan for San Antonio

San Antonio has the lowest median household income ($53,000) compared to peer cities, one of the least educated populations in the US, and the city does not embrace mixed-use real estate development in major areas. The city struggles to attract more large companies that offer high-paying jobs.

A five-year plan developed by a public-private partnership has four goals to address these issues.

  1. Retain, expand, and attract business, provide small business and entrepreneurial support.
  2. Accelerate real estate development in key neighborhoods to create jobs and investments.
  3. Provide San Antonians with access to high-paying jobs and supply employers with a qualified workforce.
  4. Align the city’s economic development tools and agencies to benefit the whole city.

The city’s economic development department is seeking approval of this plan and will develop future strategies.

Mission Gate final design pending approval

The proposed design for the Mission Gate at the Alamo will be considered for approval from the Historic and Design Review Commission. Approval from the HDRC and city council is one of the last steps to complete before construction can begin. The Mission Gate will tell a comprehensive and historic story about the Alamo’s history according to the nonprofit that manages Alamo operations and staffing.

The Mission Gate is part of the Alamo’s $300 million master plan to totally change the area surrounding the Alamo. By designing to prioritize pedestrians over car traffic, the new Alamo area could transform from a collection of tourist traps to an honorable representation of the area from indigenous history to modern day.

Plans for the site improvements were designed by a Washington D.C. -based architectural firm with museum design experience. The plans include 15 areas from the central Alamo Plaza, outer perimeter, and extending to the Woolworth and Crockett buildings. Reconstructions will feature the different uses of the site through history.

To preserve the several historic designations in the area, archeological fieldwork needs to comply with local, state and federal regulations and be approved by the San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation.


Gov. Greg Abbott announced this reappointment October 5:

Texas State Historian

Monte L. Monroe - Lubbock

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