Editor's note: CultureMap Austin partners with Leadership Austin — the region's premier provider of civic and community leadership development — in this ongoing series of editorial columns meant to inform Austinites about issues facing our city. The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni and faculty members are their own and do not represent an official position of CultureMap or Leadership Austin.
Nearly every week, I see a new report or news article that adds to the community dialogue surrounding transportation and transportation infrastructure in our region.
Culture Map recently reported new Census Bureau stats that paint the picture of Central Texas’ rapid growth and the ramifications for our mobility. Austin is now the 11th largest U.S. city, and we experienced the fourth largest jump in population from 2011 to 2012.
What was most demonstrative to me of our mobility challenges was the growth occurring outside Austin proper. San Marcos was the fastest growing city in the nation for its size. Cedar Park and Georgetown also made the top ten.
A regional problem
Those stats really underscore the fact that our traffic problems are regional in nature. Nearly 30 percent of all jobs in the region are located within four central Austin zip codes, so while many people are moving into the communities north, south and east of Austin, they still have to travel to Austin for work. You only need to drive on IH 35 during commute hours to see the scope of the transportation challenges we face.
In fact, an Austin economist has predicted that we only have about five or six more years to do something about our traffic problems before companies start to pull out of our area and relocate elsewhere. In other words, if we don’t address the mobility challenges, traffic woes could eventually derail our economic prosperity.
Regional momentum for solutions
With that great sense of urgency, the good news is that now, more than ever before, transportation agencies are pulling together to develop regional mobility solutions. And, after nearly three years of hard work improving nearly every aspect of our business, Capital Metro has never been in a better position to lead the effort.
Increasingly, the public is ready to embrace transit, too. Ridership on Capital Metro outpaced the national trend in 2012, and we saw an additional one million boardings over 2011. MetroRail ridership has tripled since service began and is standing room only every day during rush hour.
Capital Metro, the City of Austin, CAMPO and Lone Star Rail, with guidance from Mayor Lee Leffingwell and members of the Transit Working Group, have collaborated to develop a transportation vision for the region. The collaboration, called Project Connect, focuses on high-capacity transit options for the region that will move more people for less cost and with less impact on the environment.
The vision includes Express lanes on Mopac (coming 2015), MetroRapid service (early 2014), expanded MetroRail service, Lone Star rail service from San Antonio to Georgetown, and urban rail within central Austin.
Capital Metro and the City of Austin have hired urban rail expert Kyle Keahey to lead the effort to develop an urban rail plan and bring it to a public vote next year.
A separate Project Connect study is evaluating traffic solutions within the North Corridor, encompassing downtown Austin and the communities of Hutto, Pflugerville, Round Rock and Georgetown.
Public involvement is key
Public feedback and involvement is paramount to the design and development of all of these solutions as outlined in the vision. The Project Connect partners have committed to a process that incorporates meaningful and robust dialogue with the community. Look for upcoming opportunities to discuss Project Connect, urban rail and the North Corridor this summer and fall.
Transportation is the topic of the next Leadership Austin Engage breakfast, on June 4. Get involved and help shape the solutions that will keep our region livable, healthy and moving.
Since 2010, Linda Watson has been president/CEO of Capital Metro, where she has led the organization in a complete turnaround that has resulted in financial stability and transparency, greater accountability and increased transit ridership. http://www.capmetro.org