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.”


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.”


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.


Austin Police Department
UPDATE: Loop 360 closed in both directions in Northwest Austin due to a shooting incident

Residents who live in the Arboretum area in Northwest Austin are advised to shelter in place.

The Texas Department of Transportation has scheduled a nightly lane closure for RM 620 southbound motorists beginning April 18 through April 22. (Courtesy Fotolia)
TxDOT lane closure scheduled for RM 620 beginning April 18

The right lane of RM 620 southbound will be closed due to utility work.

Early voting for the May 1 election opens April 19 at a 7 a.m. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Early voting in Austin opens April 19: See what’s on the ballot, where to vote

City residents will be making decisions on eight propositions ranging from whether to adopt a strong mayor government system to whether to reinstate public camping bans.

The RealReal in Domain Northside
Luxury resale shop The RealReal opens first Texas store in North Austin

The RealReal offers high-end brands at a discounted price through consignment and resale.

The Pushing for Justice Caravan for Javier Ambler was held in San Gabriel Park on Aug. 15. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Javier Ambler’s Law awaits Texas Senate approval

The bill passed the House on April 15.

Austin transportation officials said April 15 the range of corridor construction program projects initiated through the city's 2016 Mobility Bond remain on track for completion by late 2024. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Several Austin corridor mobility projects moving forward in 2021, program on track for 2024 completion

Transportation officials said some corridor program improvements previously planned along Guadalupe Street and East Riverside Drive are being reduced ahead of Project Connect expansions.

Round Rock ISD trustees voted to maintain the district's mask policy that requires masks on school property. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Mask policy remains in place for Round Rock ISD

A motion that would have lifted part of the district's policy failed.

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations. (Courtesy Amazon)
Amazon begins rollout of statewide vaccination clinics for employees

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Teachers in Round Rock will receive a 1% pay increase for the 2021-22 school year. (Photo courtesy Round Rock ISD)
Teachers in Round Rock ISD to see 1% salary increase for 2021-22

The increase will cost the district roughly $4.6 million and is included in the proposed budget.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from Williamson County. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
New coronavirus cases continue to be reported even as vaccinations ramp up in Williamson County

Here are the most recent coronavirus updates from Williamson County.

Austin FC supporters celebrate the official announcement of the team in January 2019. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)
How, where to watch historic first Austin FC match April 17

Check out this list of breweries, pubs and restaurants around Central Texas that are hosting watch parties for April 17's inaugural Austin FC game.

Z'Tejas' chorizo dumplings are served on the Arboretum location's porch. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Z'Tejas to open in Avery Ranch; butcher, deli to open in Dripping Springs and more Central Texas news

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