Rain did nothing to dilute interest in an event Saturday morning, March 4th at the Bullock Museum. “Traffic Jam!, a Mobility Solutions Workshop for Central Texans” drew a crowd of hundreds. The event sponsored by Capital Metro and the Austin Transportation Department featured discussions and hands-on activities designed to inform the public about regional transportation initiatives including Project Connect, the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan and the Travis County Transportation Plan.
Wade Cooper, Chairman of the Capital Metro Board kicked off the event by stating how important it is for Central Texas to have a long range regional solution for transit. Cooper said, “As a region, we’re a little guilty of being ‘ready, fire, aim’ when it comes to transportation.” Cooper said Capital Metro’s Project Connect has four goals, to help manage the area’s explosive growth, provide residents with more transportation choices, help make the area more affordable for residents by making it more transit-friendly and provide more regional connectivity.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler called transportation the Achilles’ heel that could prove disastrous for the Central Texas economy. He thanked voters for passing the $720 million mobility bond in November, but said we still need to “get serious” about a long range plan.
Adler then participated in the first panel discussion of the event, along the State Senator Kirk Watson and State Representative Celia Israel. Moderator Terry Mitchell, who serves on the boards of Capital Metro and HousingWorks Austin, said Project Connect is designed to work with the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan. Mitchell asked the panelists what energizes them most about the plans. They all pointed to the regional focus. Representative Israel said residents want to know that area leaders are working together on solutions rather than “knocking down” each other’s plans.
Senator Watson said planning need not be a pursuit of perfection. Watson said, “In this town and this region we too often define consensus as 100 percent agreement. Well, that’s not consensus and it dooms us to failure in some instances.”
Mayor Adler cited a statistic that of the 450 thousand people who drive on the streets of Austin every day about a third of them started off outside the city. Given the high number of commuters, the panelists were asked how Central Texans can be encouraged to use different forms of transportation other than automobiles. Representative Israel said residents will embrace transit options that are affordable and efficient. She pointed to the North Mopac Managed Lane Project. “It’s going to be the first time, once it’s finally done, in our region’s history that you’re going to be sitting in stop-and-go traffic and the bus is going to be flying right by you,” said Israel. “There’s something psychological about that, and in cities that have done these projects transit use goes up significantly.”
Senator Watson called for businesses to help reduce traffic tie-ups by allowing employees to show up for work and leave during off-peak times, establish more car and van pools and allow more employees to work from home. Watson also said it’s vital for the area to do planning for infrastructure improvements so the projects are “shovel-ready” when sources of funding become available.