Travis County Judge addresses regional priorities for 2016


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Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt

Transportation, economic prosperity and providing civil and family courts services will be among Travis County’s priorities in 2016, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said Jan. 11 at a news conference.

The county must renew its focus on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to ensure residents have greater access to options besides cars such as buses, trains and rail transit.

MoPac and Hwy. 183 will be focus areas, as well as I-35, she said. Eckhardt said she is not convinced that a multi-governmental “super bond” is the way to fund improvements to I-35.

“I-35 is one of our biggest challenges from a transportation perspective, but the challenge of funding it is not unique. It’s the same challenge we have in every piece of transportation infrastructure. We need to have a quality process and take a good hard look at all of our actions for funding it.”

In Precinct 4, the county will look to make investments in low opportunity areas, especially “transit-starved” and flood-prone areas, she said.

Open carry

The Travis County Commissioners Court will discuss two agenda items at its Jan. 12 meeting regarding gun-related legislation that was recently implemented.

“I am deeply concerned about the legislation regarding open carry; I don’t think it was well thought through by the Texas Legislature. It’s having some really unfortunate, and I think, unmindful, results as we are implementing it.

The court will hear from Travis County staff and elected officials about the policy and will hear from legal counsel about what options the county has. Ensuring the safety of public servants will remain a priority, Eckhardt said.

“We have for many many, many years had the policy at Travis County that county employees cannot bring deadly weapons to the workplace. We are not alone in this position. And most of the private sector would agree. However, we are now facing the circumstance where our employees will not be able to bring deadly weapons to work, but the people they serve can. … We must be mindful about safety in our workplace.”

Courthouse capacity

Another issue the court will continue to discuss in 2016 is how to provide more capacity for civil and family courts cases. Voters in November rejected a proposal for $287.3 million in bond funds to build a new civil and family courts complex, or CFCC, in downtown Austin. Since then the court has discussed potential next steps.

“We can’t give up on it,” Eckhardt said. “ … We’re going back to the drawing board, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t already have tremendous amounts of quality, incredible information that has been developed over this process. We will be going back through what we already know and also looking at options that are brand new to us as well as examining how our courts are functioning right now where they are.”

The court recently approved a draft master plan for preservation of the existing courthouse.

Eckhardt said the court must put appropriate courthouse services in that building.

“In order to maintain its historical integrity, it will never have the kind of safety and security features necessary for high-conflict court cases,” she said, adding those are typically family law cases.

In the coming year, other changes the county will see include the creation of a countywide Public Information Office, an affordable housing partnership co-located with county services on Airport Boulevard., and a regional study of groundwater capacity, Eckhardt said.