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Our Transportation Crisis Requires Bold Leadership

April 6, 2015

It’s not a day in Austin without another big news story on transportation policy and congestion in the region. This past week was no exception, as the CAMPO 2040 Regional Transportation Plan comment period came to a close and the City of Austin announced its initiative to address traffic problems. These two plans, viewed side by side, tell us a lot about our opportunities and our struggles to create better regional mobility.

The CAMPO 2040 plan aims to be comprehensive in its roster of road projects that should be considered and continued, as well as transit, bicycle and pedestrian policies. At RECA we urge that CAMPO prioritize regionally significant projects and strategies that support long-term economic prosperity and opportunity and improve overall quality of life.

In sadly typical Austin fashion, the CAMPO plan spurred strong criticism from some Austin neighborhoods when it came to plans for express lanes on MoPac South — with people up in arms about potential noise, blocked views and other impacts. But we clearly need big ideas like the MoPac South project to begin relieving some of the region’s intractable and much more damaging congestion.  And we must do it in a way that contemplates future growth.

With some courageous leadership and an appropriately thoughtful effort, we as a community can implement a significant traffic solution on MoPac South that would benefit many Southwest Austin residents, while still protecting our quality of life- if we all commit to working together in good faith to do it. Saying “no” is not a solution. It simply exacerbates the problem.

In contrast to the CAMPO 2040 plan, the City of Austin’s Traffic Congestion Action Plan (TCAP) included both near-term and long-term solutions including added resources for signal timing and, increased law enforcement at key intersections called “traffic mobility police officers.” You may also see some new signs popping up at busy intersections as part of the new Don’t Block the Box campaign. While these are important tools they are only one strategy, and unless multiple strategies are pursued, they will not make a noticeable difference given the scope of our problems. One challenge is that the TCAP is largely focused on the urban core — even after voters in November, in defeating Prop. 1, made it clear we need to improve mobility throughout the city.

Traffic congestion is not just a symptom of the lack of past investment in mobility but also a lack of execution. It also reflects our past land use choices and our failure to deploy and promote a robust transit system. RECA strongly supports implementing the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which provides a blueprint for growth choices that can support better mobility. Implementing a new land development code, as part of the CodeNEXT process, will enable the Imagine Austin vision to become reality. Put simply, giving more people the opportunity to live near where they work can have a significant impact on traffic.

We understand that the City is trying to get what it can done, particularly by pursuing efforts with the least resistance. However,  we all need to step up and take on the bigger challenges soon of making Imagine Austin a reality; otherwise we will find ourselves spending even more time away from our homes and families, and instead sitting in traffic.

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