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Critics say CAMPO 2040 Plan doomed to fail

Thursday, March 19, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Those wondering what Austin-area roads might look like in 25 years need look no further than the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan. Many of those who have, it seems, do not like what they see.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board heard mostly frustration from residents at a March 9 public hearing about the current draft of the organization’s proposed plan.

“I want to start by just asking you to take more than the next couple of months to work on this,” said Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance. “What you’re being asked to endorse is a plan that projects $35 billion of expenditures with traffic getting significantly worse. You’re being asked to endorse a plan that’s projected to fail miserably — not just a little bit.”

Bunch was not alone in this viewpoint, as the vast majority of public speakers appeared to disapprove of the plan. Among other complaints, residents said that the plan is based on flawed data, proposes too many toll roads, and does not include enough transit, pedestrian and bicycle projects.

Before the public hearing, CAMPO Planning and Environmental Program Manager Cathy Stephens acknowledged common perceptions of the plan. “We have a very uphill battle against congestion, so we can — at best — manage it. We will not eliminate it,” she said. “Even if we do a lot of other things, there’s still going to be more congestion than there was in 2010.

“Because of our high growth and our somewhat limited funds,” Stephens continued, “we see that, even once we implement all the projects in the 2040 plan, we’re only going to be able to increase our road capacity by about 15 percent, but the vehicle miles traveled in the region are expected to double.”

Although CAMPO staff estimate more than $35.1 billion of combined funding over the plan’s course, they project that the number of vehicle miles traveled in the area per year could jump from about 43.1 million in 2010 to about 93.4 million in 2040.

The most significant project in the plan consists of approximately $4.25 billion in I-35 improvements, running from SH 130 in northern Williamson County, through Travis County and down to Posey Road in southern Hays County. It also includes $600 million for other road improvements.

Other proposals include $341 million for bicycle and pedestrian projects, additional Capital Metro bus rapid transit, park and ride facilities, express and connect bus routes, new Capital Area Rural Transportation System projects and more.

CAMPO expects the number of tolled highway miles in the region to jump from about 331 in 2010 to 594 — plus about 193 miles of express lanes — in 2040. In the same period, non-tolled highway miles will go from about 855 to about 890.

Board member and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt joined several speakers to note her opposition to a project in the plan’s illustrative list that she referred to as State Highway 45 West. It proposes a six-lane toll road with protected bike lanes that would run from RM 620 south of RM 2222 to SH 45 South.

The City of Austin Transportation Department and the Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources Department are also on record opposing the project, which the plan notes is sponsored by the City of Lakeway.

“There are grave concerns about the project on many levels,” Eckhardt said. “Not the least of which is that … if it were to be built, it would require right of way through the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, which Travis County, the City of Austin and many others have contributed considerable resources to create.”

CAMPO Executive Director Ashby Johnson noted that, since the illustrative list consists of projects that do not have identified funding, the project in question is “not part of the plan” as drafted. If the board were to adopt the current plan, he added, it would later have to amend it to include that project.

Eckhardt said she was aware of the project’s status, though she seemed skeptical of it. “The likely cost of the project outstrips the bonding capacity of the sponsor, probably by a factor of 300 percent,” she said. “I think that to sponsor an item on the illustrative list, you should be able to demonstrate that your bonding capacity is somewhere in the ballpark of the project suggested.”

In the region, CAMPO staff expects the population to grow from about 1.8 million in 2010 to about 4.1 million in 2040. In Travis County, figures during the same period would rise to about 1.7 million from about 1 million. People migrating to the area will fuel almost 80 percent of regional growth, Stephens said.

CAMPO staff estimates that, under the plan, the travel-time index — which measures congestion — could jump from 1.18 in 2010 to 1.99 in 2040.

Stephens put these ratios into perspective. “If the number is 1, then that equals no congestion,” she explained. “If it was 1.75, then that would mean it would take you 75 percent longer to get somewhere during congested periods than during uncongested periods.”

According to federal requirements, CAMPO has until May 24 to adopt the plan, which will replace the current 2035 plan. CAMPO staff wrote in the agenda for last week’s meeting that they plan to ask the Transportation Policy Board for direction at the April 13 meeting.

The public has until April 2 to submit comments online, by email, phone, mail or in person at one of several CAMPO community meetings. The next meetings will take place Monday in Burnet and Pflugerville, and the last will take place at One Texas Center in Austin on April 1, with a few in between.

Image courtesy of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization


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