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Transportation staff proposes plan to prioritize city’s bond projects

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The city’s Transportation Department has unveiled what it would like to see adopted as the process for setting priorities for a proposed November transportation bond election. The plan, a five-step offering that would use a weighted matrix to arrive at its final determinations, is scheduled to go before the Council on Thursday.


If adopted, Public Works officials expect that the Project Prioritization Process (PPP) will improve the city’s long-term transportation project forecasting. They also hope that the PPP will shorten the time it takes to get projects started.


“The ASMP (Austin Strategic Mobility Plan) Project Prioritization Process is an entirely new approach to prioritizing transportation investments that embraces the transformative power of transportation infrastructure—both to support and influence land use,” according to the proposal. “The ASMP reflects a growing recognition that an integrated mobility network is more than just the sum of its parts and can be leveraged to achieve the community’s vision for itself.”


Director of Transportation Robert Spillar told In Fact Daily that, though urban rail is off the table for this round of funding, it remains an option for another bond cycle. Staff hopes that, if approved, the PPP will be used well into the future.


The city aims to arrive at its lofty goals by identifying and prioritizing infrastructure “gaps.” To date, city staff and the public have identified more than 1,600 shortcomings in Austin’s transportation system.


The PPP addresses what officials call the processing of the shortcomings. The first step in the process is to rank each need by priority. According to the proposal, “gaps advanced from step 1 are (then) analyzed to determine the range of potential solutions,” and then re-prioritized relative to a proposed weighted matrix. The list that results is “reviewed in order to identify synergistic projects that can be combined to create complete corridors.”


Then, just before a final verification, projects could be put together into potential bond packages. This outcome represents a streamlining of what had been an informal process.


The matrix used to assess gaps, proposed solutions, and any resulting project is based on a list of eight goal categories that was compiled through public and professional input. Each of these objectives comes with a weighted priority multiplier that corresponds to the relative importance of each objective to the community.


As such, city staff hopes to be able to mathematically factor each potential project’s value to the city it will serve.


Staff culled this list from public input received at mobility forums conducted in February and feedback received on line and from professionals on the ASMP team. Each individual objective was given a collective score from both the community and staff. Those numbers were then averaged to arrive at a final “composite weighting.”


In order of community interest, the priorities are:


  • Mobility choices. The proposal calls for “good mobility solutions” for “Austinites of all ages and physical capabilities.” The city, it adds, “should make mobility investments that improve connections between walking, biking, transit, and driving.” 
  • Probable efficiency. Here, the proposal says that “(i)nvestments should increase multimodal system capacity and integrate technologies and management strategies that make the network more efficient for Austin’s diverse range of users.” 
  • Regional Integration. The plan calls for local systems to “connect with and support a comprehensive and regional mobility network.” 
  • Sustainable growth. Here, the proposal notably calls for growth to be “focused along established corridors and within identified Activity Centers.” 
  • Environmental stewardship. Staff calls for projects that fall in line with a range of green goals that “should reduce Austin’s carbon footprint to the extent possible.” 
  • Investment and economic development. Here, staff is looking for effective projects that support “job creation, investments, and sustaining the city’s tax base.” It also notes that “new mobility investments should be leveraged to attract federal and state funding as well as new private development and redevelopment.”
  • Neighborhood Coordination and Connectivity. Here, staff looks to support the “goals and objectives of neighborhood plans and other neighborhood-supportive initiatives.” They also call for “(p)edestrian, bicycle, and transit links” that “encourage and facilitate neighborhood connectivity.”  
  • Safety.

If all goes according to plan, staff will have some proposed projects in June and a final proposal in time for a Council vote in late July.

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