According to Hays County officials the number of people in the area who commute to work is increasing.

This and other key data came from the 2021 Transportation Summit in San Marcos, which was hosted by the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 25.

The goal of the event was to discuss regional transportation issues, much of which were presented in the context of the pandemic and its impact on future construction.

“When we all do get to go back to whatever the new normal is going to be, I think travel patterns are going to be changing and evolving, and they’re going to be different than what they were before COVID-19,” said Lisa Kay Pfannenstiel, executive director of Movability, which develops mobility plans for the region.

According to Pfannenstiel, 85% of the 30,000 downtown workers in Austin her organization tracks were still working from home.

However, Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Mark Jones said commuting had actually increased in parts of Hays County and attributed it to regional growth.

“What we’re seeing is that SH45 is up above where it was before COVID-19,” Jones remarked. “Even though more people work from home, the growth that we’ve had has more than made up [the difference].”

But keeping up with growth presents challenges with funding, he said.

Some $377 million worth of infrastructure projects were put on hold due to the pandemic, Jones pointed out.

Pfannenstiel emphasized the need to build transportation projects intelligently and with built-in flexibility to accommodate future modes of transportation.

She pointed to electric scooters to illustrate how commuting can change rapidly, and gave protected bike lanes and shared-use paths as examples of future-proof designs.

Executive Director Jay Crossley of Farm & City, a think tank focused on human habitats, said efforts to create safer and more efficient roads sometimes falter, as they did when the Texas Department of Transportation tried to abandon feeder roads in 2000.

The National Safety Council quantified the economic cost of congestion at roughly $500 per commuter every year, or $16 billion for all Texans, he said. Crashes cost Texas somewhere between $32 billion-$35 billion annually.

“The economic impact of traffic crashes is about $70 million a year just for the city of San Marcos, whereas Hays County it’s about $164 million a year,” Crossley said.

Both sums paled in comparison to the comprehensive cost of wrecks, which provides a value for the lifetime economic and quality of life cost.

“The comprehensive cost of crashes last year for Hays County was a billion dollars,” he said. “It’s sort of this hidden problem.”

Pfannenstiel suggested the solution is multifaceted and requires a change in perspective.

“We should not be thinking about moving more cars and pickup trucks,” she said. “It’s all about the people, and if we can get more people in a vehicle, regardless of what that vehicle is ... that will go a long way.”