Collaboration key to relieving congestion in Central Texas

With declining funding sources, transportation organizations and government entities are looking at how they can pool resources to improve congestion.

"The truth of the matter is it makes no sense with all the congestion issues we've got and lack of funding to be replicating each other's work," said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-District 14, who spoke during the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce's annual State of Transportation address Oct. 10.

Martha Smiley, the chamber vice chairwoman of regional infrastructure and development, said collaboration is the only way to move forward with projects on the region's most significant corridors.

"Our transportation planning and implementation is so much harder today, not just because it's more complex with our growth, but because traditional historic funding sources are shrinking," she said.

A recent example of collaboration is the MoPac Improvement Project, which will add an express lane in each direction from Parmer Lane to Cesar Chavez Street. The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority partnered with the Texas Department of Transportation and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to fund the nearly $200 million project, scheduled for construction in 2013. Watson said the Transit Working Group, a committee formed by CAMPO to provide input on regional high-capacity transit plans in Central Texas, looked at how to expand that project.

"MoPac doesn't stop at the river," Watson said. "To address MoPac from Cesar Chavez south, the working group voted to [recommend allocating] $16.5 million to begin an environmental study for express lanes on the southern segment of MoPac."

TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said the department will continue working with metropolitan planning organizations and regional mobility authorities. He said the "peanut-butter method" of putting a little money here and there and spreading it around no longer is effective.

"TxDOT doesn't have all the answers, we don't have all the money and we don't have all the innovation, but we want to get people moving in a smart, innovative way," he said.

Mobility issues

The chamber also released its inaugural mobility report with data on where and when congestion occurs and where people live and work.

"We could better understand density in terms of where people live and where they work, and getting that sense of concentration will help transportation planners better understand where people are coming from and where they are going," said Jeremy Martin, senior vice president of government relations at the chamber.

To prioritize transportation projects, Smiley said data is the only guiding principle for transportation organizations and government bodies to determine where to focus their efforts and funding.

"High-capacity transit has a place in our regional transportation system, but the community must trust it is the right form of transit and that it has been vetted, that ridership studies and analysis have been done, that the results do justify the investment and that funding sources are viable," she said.

By Amy Denney
Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and then senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition and covering transportation. She is now managing editor for the nine publications in the Central Texas area.


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