Good reading on the Austin American-Statesman opinion page today:
Area agencies are steering central Texas past obstacles
by Mike Heiligenstein, Carlos Lopez, Doug Allen, Marc Ott and Maureen McCoy
It’s no surprise that a lot of Central Texans are confused, as well as frustrated, by the local transportation landscape. Our region’s well-known mobility challenges are being addressed by a number of different agencies, including the five we represent the City of Austin, the Texas Department of Transportation, Capital Metro, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Each of our agencies has a role in developing and maintaining the Austin area’s comprehensive mobility network. Through the years, we’ve learned it’s imperative to work together to provide better mobility options to the region. Collaboration is even more important today, because funds are in very short supply to build and maintain the streets, highways, trails and transit systems Central Texas needs.
Government entities in Central Texas have a reputation for not working together effectively, but our agencies are getting better every day at partnering to execute the projects that will make the biggest impact on our transportation crisis. Our agencies can make these projects better and get them done faster.
One place we’re seeing progress is through collaboration on the MoPac Improvement Project, which has been on the Central Texas transportation to-do list, in one form or another, since 1994. Adding express lanes to MoPac will create capacity and access that can substantially improve the regional public transportation system by reducing travel times and increasing service reliability for buses, as well as adding options for motorists. Connecting those express lanes directly with downtown will improve mobility to and from the central city, which is one of the region’s major challenges for buses and other forms of transit. Investing in MoPac improvements also provides an opportunity to retrofit the highway with sound walls and quiet-asphalt surfaces that will make a major highway a better and friendlier neighbor.
Since the MoPac Improvement Project can achieve so many goals, it makes sense for agencies to collaborate. Funding for environmental and engineering studies is coming through TxDOT, the Mobility Authority is securing construction funding of nearly $200 million, money for design work for connections to downtown Austin is included in the city’s proposed 2010 bond package, and Capital Metro is planning for upgraded transit service in the corridor.
We’re also seeing progress at the junction of U.S. 290 and Texas 71 (the “Y”) in Oak Hill, one of the region’s major bottlenecks. The City of Austin’s proposed transportation bond package, which could go to the voters in November, includes $4 million for intersection improvements at the Y, which should aid traffic flow through the area for the next five to seven years. The Mobility Authority and TxDOT, along with the city, are providing funds for the preliminary modeling of potential improvements.
Meanwhile, TxDOT approved funding for the environmental study required for the full reconstruction of the Y in Oak Hill, which may include express lanes to be built in phases by the Mobility Authority. Estimates put the cost for a full rebuild of the Y at $500 million. Without everyone working together to move forward on short-term solutions, any progress on improving traffic at this critical junction could be delayed indefinitely until the region comes up with full funding. Instead, we are looking at operational improvements that can be implemented over the next couple of years at relatively low cost.
We look forward to continued collaboration on projects that will ease Central Texas traffic woes, provide mobility choices and make the region’s scarce transportation dollars go farther. But as important as these outcomes are, our commitment to collaboration goes beyond individual projects. Though each of our agencies has a role to play, we are all responsible for delivering a comprehensive regional mobility system that meets the needs of all Central Texans. Working together is key as we direct our efforts to achieving that shared vision.
Heiligenstein is executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. Lopez is district engineer with the Texas Department of Transportation. Allen is interim president and CEO of Capital Metro. Ott is Austin’s city manager. McCoy is interim executive director of CAMPO.