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County staff gear up for inaugural transportation plan

Friday, November 4, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

For the first time ever, Travis County is putting together a long-range transportation plan.

The county’s Transportation and Natural Resources division is hosting an online survey on its website as part of the first round of public engagement for the process. There will be two public meetings later this month.

TNR’s Scheleen Walker told the Austin Monitor on Thursday that the county has historically relied on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s regional planning efforts to figure out transportation priorities. However, that agency’s scope has broadened over the years as its membership has grown to include five additional counties, and the money that CAMPO brings down from state and federal sources is increasingly being funneled toward large regional infrastructure such as Interstate 35.

“We decided that we really needed to put together a local transportation plan that concentrated more on our Travis County roads and how they connect to the state system and other cities in the county,” Walker said.

The effort comes as city of Austin staff gear up to write the city’s own long-term Strategic Mobility Plan and while Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority staff is putting the finishing touches on Connections 2025, the agency’s 10-year service plan.

Walker said the county’s planning efforts will include collaboration with both the city and Capital Metro.

The idea for a county transportation plan springs from the Land, Water, and Transportation Plan that the Travis County Commissioners Court approved in December 2014. Walker described that document as a “mini comprehensive plan” that lays out the vision for how TNR should balance its mandate to provide mobility infrastructure with efforts to protect land and water resources.

As for the transportation plan, Walker said that staff is including in the scope multimodal options such as transit, bicycling, walking and tech-based alternatives such as ride-hailing services. In a video promoting public engagement, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt also mentions autonomous vehicles and commuter rail, and one of the featured graphics appears to be an aerial gondola.

“The county currently has 1,300 linear miles of roadway in the unincorporated area, and we’re going to look at all of those,” Walker said. “And we’ve got a lot of population growth coming, so we need to figure out how to provide options for people to get around in the future.”

The first round of public engagement, including the online survey, will wrap up by the end of the year. Staff will prepare a report on its findings and present that to the Commissioners Court in January or February.

By next fall, Walker said, staff will produce several long-range scenarios and take those back out for more public engagement. The entire process should be completely wrapped up by spring 2018.

Photo by Lars Plougmann made available through a Creative Commons license.

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