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Our Transportation Crisis is Too Severe to Limit Options

May 8, 2015

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which sets our regional transportation policy, will meet next week to adopt its final CAMPO 2040 long-range plan for the next 25 years of mobility investments. Activists, including some of our City Council members, are out in full force opposing plans to add two tolled lanes in each direction to MoPac South. As we at RECA listen to their claims about the allegedly negative consequences, we have one question: What are the consequences of doing nothing?

We are where we are today because Austin has spent a lot of time and energy doing nothing about transportation — or, at best, offering extremely boiled-down responses to the city’s vast and growing needs. Powerful voices in our city have fought every major project and proposal, insisting we must look to other alternatives before we can ever move forward toward execution on plans critical for our short, middle and long-term future.

The result has been that we now need to implement all the alternatives we can afford if we’re going to keep up with the demand for mobility. The roads into our region’s urban core were built to handle a fraction of the traffic volume that is now trying to use them, and that volume goes up every day as people move here and jobs are created.

Adding tolled lanes to MoPac South wouldn’t just benefit the automobile driver – our busses will also use them, transforming rapid bus adoption in Austin like nothing ever has before. Take Houston, for example, where thirty percent of its downtown commuters now arrive via transit.

Maintaining the CAMPO 2040 plan and the South MoPac expansion will be a welcome benefit to bicyclists as well, enabling a safe and reliable bike route from at least Slaughter Lane to Lady Bird Lake. And to their credit the CTRMA has constructed or has plans to construct more than 90 miles of bike lanes in the region.

As the region grows, the zone of congestion expands to ensnare outlying areas. It can take a commuter from southwest Austin 45-minutes to an hour to get to downtown on MoPac — which also means that mobility within Southwest Austin, along the MoPac corridor, is compromised. That means more costly time spent in cars, resulting in lost productivity, lost time with family and loved ones and lost personal time to enjoy Austin’s quality of life.

At some point, we as a city have to decide to stop using “evaluating alternatives” as an excuse to not make necessary and beneficial changes. Yes, we need to find better ways to manage demand. Yes, we need to look hard at land use. Yes, we do need more buses and rail . But we also need creative ways to add capacity to our existing roads.

We can’t limit our options by being shortsighted in our regional mobility plans. At RECA, we urge CAMPO to include the four toll lanes that are currently in its 2040 plan to allow us the most flexibility going forward. This is a multimodal success story and we should be embracing it. And this is a decision important not only to Austin, but to our entire Region.

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