The city of Austin and Capital Metro kicked off public input Saturday for two plans that aim to address mobility in the city as well as connect Central Texas jurisdictions with transit.
In a panel discussion with Mayor Steve Adler, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, the three leaders discussed the region’s challenges with mobility and how it affects connectivity, jobs, growth and affordability.
Although the city and its transit agency, Capital Metro, are working on separate plans, Adler said working together will be the only way to solve the region’s transportation issues.
“We have got to do this regionally and collectively because the Achilles heel of Austin, Texas in terms of ultimately being able to do something about affordability, really being able to preserve what is special about this city, comes down to this conversation,” Adler said.
1. The city of Austin has not adopted a new transportation plan since 1995.
The city is in the process of creating the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, which is an update to the old plan. Once approved, it will be an appendix to the city’s comprehensive plan called Imagine Austin.
“If we’re really going to do something about mobility we’re going to have to get serious about the long-range plan,” Adler said.
Annick Beaudet, manager of the Austin Transportation Department’s Systems Development Division, said the new plan will extend 10 years and aims to create the next set of transportation projects after the completion of the city’s $720 million mobility bond approved last November.
2. Project Connect is making a comeback.
The relaunched Project Connect plan, spearheaded by Capital Metro, seeks to identify high-capacity transit options both in Austin and connecting to other Central Texas jurisdictions, said Javier Argüello, Capital Metro’s director of long-range planning.
The first launch of Project Connect happened in February 2013 and culminated in a plan for the North Corridor stretching from Austin to jurisdictions in Williamson County. The Central Corridor planning efforts in downtown Austin resulted in the failed urban rail bond voters defeated in November 2014.
“Because of the failure of Proposition 1 we wanted to be sure that relaunching Project Connect was done in the right manner and beginning to seek support from everybody and really get our leadership and governmental agencies in the process,” Argüello said.
Phase 2 of Project Connect will explore the costs and transportation modes and conclude in a system plan to implement.
“The difficulty will be how do we pay for all of this,” Argüello said. “We are well behind in transportation infrastructure, and it will cost us a lot of money to catch up.”
3. The city’s plan and Project Connect will incorporate other area transportation plans.
Project Connect relaunched last spring, and Capital Metro staffers spent the first few months going over data and plans already collected, Argüello said.
Beaudet said the city launched its new strategic mobility planning effort at the same time as Project Connect so the two will coordinate.
“All of the puzzle pieces of the transportation systems—bikes, pedestrian, transit, roadway systems—we want to make sure at the end of this process, which is give or take a year, that the high-capacity puzzle piece fits into our transportation network at the city of Austin for an integrated approach for solving our transportation problems now and into the future.”
4. Public input is vital for all plans.
The city wants to hear what tradeoffs residents are willing to consider: health and safety, placemaking, economic prosperity, innovation, affordability, commuter delay, travel choice and sustainability.
“We want input from the public on what’s the most important of those eight,” Beaudet said.
Community work sessions for the strategic mobility plan continue throughout the spring and summer, and a draft plan is expected in late 2017 for the public to review and provide feedback. City Council could adopt the new strategic mobility plan in 2018.
Residents may also submit feedback on what other Project Connect improvements they would like to see online at https://capmetro.org/participate or in person at 209 W. Lavaca St., Austin.