On the heels of Capital Metro’s Austin referendum discussion, local leaders talk transit solutions in northwest Travis County

Local officials spoke at a Jan. 14 panel to discuss regional transit solutions to roadway congestion along roadways such as RM 2222 in Northwest Austin. (Courtesy TxDOT)
Local officials spoke at a Jan. 14 panel to discuss regional transit solutions to roadway congestion along roadways such as RM 2222 in Northwest Austin. (Courtesy TxDOT)

Local officials spoke at a Jan. 14 panel to discuss regional transit solutions to roadway congestion along roadways such as RM 2222 in Northwest Austin. (Courtesy TxDOT)

Just hours after the conclusion of a joint meeting between Austin City Council and Capital Metro to discuss funding the expansion of the transit system’s operating network, local officials met in Steiner Ranch discussed how to deliver transit solutions to the city’s surrounding suburban areas.


At the Jan. 14 panel hosted by State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, three area mayors were joined by Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan and Dottie Watkins, chief operating officer and chief customer officer of Capital Metro, to address funding concerns and limitations for communities outside the city’s reach.

“Regional [planning] is challenging,” Flannigan said. “It is as much about land use and growth patterns as much as it is infrastructure.”

LIMITATIONS TO REGIONAL TRANSIT



Earlier on Jan. 14, Austin City Council and Capital Metro held a joint work session to map out a way to fund the transit authority’s Project Connect plans. Those local costs that could reach $7.2 billion.


Funding options include a November referendum that could ask voters to approve a transportation bond by increasing the tax rate or seeking a tax-rate election to provide a dedicated funding stream, according to Capital Metro and city officials.

Austin’s surrounding regional partners don’t have access to a pool of funds that large, officials at the panel contended. Due to state law, counties are barred from issuing debt to fund transit projects and that restricts how cities such as Leander, Lakeway or Round Rock connect to each other.

For communities such as Lakeway, which is buffeted by Lake Travis to the north and a nature preserve to the south, creating connectivity solutions is proving to be a hurdle, Lakeway Mayor Sandy Cox said.

“We can only spend our taxpayer dollars on our roads,” Cox said. “The problem is exactly this connection point when you have county [land] between our cities. ... If there is county land in between, you can’t connect them.”

SOLVING REGIONAL CONGESTION



Capital Metro’s proposed plans do include some regional transit improvements, Watkins stated.


The transit agency has earmarked approximately $1.5 billion in additional bus service and Park & Ride locations throughout the city, Watkins said, but direct bus service out to communities like Lakeway and Lago Vista may be too inefficient to make sense.


“Not every single place in the region is going to be a logical place to [put] a bus route or light rail down the street, but we know a core of our region calls for that and other areas call for connection,” Watkins said.

Watkins declined to shut down the possibility of the Four Points area getting its own direct bus route to downtown Austin, but the transit executive stated that even if a bus route did exist, the area would need a Park & Ride for commuters.

“For a community like [Steiner Ranch] what we really need is a collection point. We really need a Park & Ride,” Watkins said. “We’ve struggled to find a place to land.”

Instead of expanded full bus service within its city limits, Capital Metro in December launched an on-demand bus service called Pickup in Leander. The service helps to solve the city’s last-mile transit problem of getting residents to and from Capital Metro’s commuter trains that run parallel to US 183, Leander Mayor Troy Hill said.

Hill repeatedly advocated for including additional roadways throughout the panel, stating he did not believe removing lanes for transit was the answer for congestion woes. But the Leander mayor did express desire for regional train options from city to city and said planning partners have to rethink transportation solutions for the future.


“We’ve got an opportunity now while our cities are growing to make a system that is effective and will work in 20 years,” Hill said.

Lago Vista is set to launch Capital Metro’s Pickup service inside its city limits soon, Mayor Ed Tidwell said Jan. 14.

While the proposed Capital Metro expansion plan doesn’t include large chunks of funding for regional connectivity, Flannigan and Watkins both said they believe the plan sets up a base for regional expansions in the future, likely in the form of high capacity buses.

“I have as many needs and problems in common with Round Rock as I do with the city of Austin,” Flannigan said, referring to the needs of his council district. “We have to do stuff regionally.”
By Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the editor for the Northwest Austin edition.


MOST RECENT

About one in 10 Austin ISD students failed a class this fall as the district adjusted to virtual learning. (Community Impact staff)
Failure rates, education gaps increase as nearly 80% of Austin ISD students continue to learn from home

About one in 10 Austin ISD students failed a class this fall as the district adjusted to virtual learning.

RiverPark is a 109-acre project that is set to be phased in over the next 10-20 years along East Riverside Drive in Austin. (Rendering courtesy Sasaki)
Hundreds of acres, billions of dollars: Three major developments to follow in Austin

The EastVillage, River Park and Brodie Oaks projects will see the investment of billions of dollars into condos, apartments, office space, retail space, restaurants and more.

See how COVID-19 continues to impact Williamson County. (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County surpasses 300 total COVID-19 deaths

The county also reported more than 400 new cases.

District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, left, and District 10 Council Member Alison Alter will serve successive one-year terms as mayor pro tem. (Courtesy city of Austin/Alison Alter)
East Austin’s Natasha Harper-Madison, West Austin's Alison Alter will each serve one year as mayor pro tem

In a move Austin Mayor Steve Adler called "probably unprecedented," City Council has chosen two mayors pro tem.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has named a new executive director. (Courtesy Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority)
James Bass named executive director of Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority

Bass, the former executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, replaces Mike Heiligenstein, who stepped aside Jan. 24.

The Feb. 1 virtual town hall will outline special education services available to district families and answer participants' questions on the programs. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Round Rock ISD to address special education services in February town hall

The Feb. 1 virtual town hall will outline special education services available to district families and answer participants' questions on the programs.

The Texas Legislature is responsible for drawing lines for new state and federal districts. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Redistricting process affecting every level of government gets underway in 2021

The state's process is largely a political one, while the city's process is left to an independent commission.

Photo of the Travis County sign
Travis County votes to accept application for Silicon Silver development incentives agreement

The company behind the project will be named once it submits an application and pays a $150,000 fee—the same as Tesla paid to apply for its hefty 2020 agreement.

Previous headliners included Cody Johnson, Turnpike Troubadours, Aaron Watson and Mark Chestnutt, among others. (Courtesy KOKEFest)
KOKEFest releases dates in Hutto; Marisol's Mexican Grill taking orders in Georgetown and more area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Williamson County will add two new justice courts over the next two years. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Williamson County looks to add two new justice courts

The county will request state legislative approval to add a new district court and a new county court of law, officials said.

Austin ISD reported its highest number of COVID-19 cases the week of Jan. 4, but that number has decreased for two consecutive weeks, according to the district. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD sees 70% drop in on-campus students over past 2 weeks after district asks families to stay home

The district saw a 11,839-student decline in on-campus learning as AISD families opted for online learning from Jan. 12-22.