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Travis County approves long-range transportation plan

Thursday, July 18, 2019 by Jack Craver

At long last, Travis County has a long-range transportation plan. The Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the Travis County Transportation Blueprint, which lays out a vision for infrastructure in unincorporated parts of Travis County over the next quarter-century.

Today there are already just under half a million daily commute trips taken within Travis County, including over 146,000 commuters coming into the county and about 45,000 leaving.

Traffic is already bad, but considering the metro area’s rapid population growth, it’s likely only to get worse. By 2045, Travis County’s population is projected to grow by another 650,000 – from 1.23 million to 1.88 million.

The Transportation Blueprint follows Austin City Council’s recent adoption of the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, a 20-year master plan that envisions a city where significantly more people get around on foot, by bike or via public transit.

The county’s plan also calls for more multimodal options, even in sparsely populated rural areas.

The great majority of the funding will continue to go toward roads. Of the $1.93 billion the county forecasts spending over the next 25 years, $1.57 billion will be for roads projects, while $343 million will go to pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure and $22.4 million will go toward public transit.

Still, the blueprint signals an increased awareness of alternatives to cars. Currently, the county does not even have a full inventory of its sidewalks, something the blueprint says needs to change. It also recommends a guaranteed annual budget devoted to sidewalk maintenance and repairs.

While county government oversees transportation in areas that are not typically dense enough to merit public transit, the blueprint highlights ongoing opportunities in the county to work with Capital Metro to provide transit to parts of the county that currently lack service. Sometimes that may simply involve encouraging the transit agency to extend routes.

Other ways to provide transportation to those without cars is Capital Metro’s Vanshare program or its Vehicle Grant Program, which offers cars to nonprofits and faith-based organizations to serve their members. The county is also helping to fund a Capital Metro pilot project in Manor that is offering residents on-demand, door-to-door transportation, à la Uber and Lyft. The Manor pilot debuted in June, and Capital Metro plans to extend the service to several other designated areas of the county by the end of the summer.

Bridges are another issue. Of the 196 bridges the county maintains, the Texas Department of Transportation has rated 87 percent in “good or better” condition, while 23 are described as “functionally obsolete” and one historic bridge near Manor is “structurally deficient.” That puts the county’s success rate above the state goal of 80 percent, but the blueprint calls for even better performance: It says all bridges should be in good condition within 10 years.

That blueprint’s forecast, explained Scheleen Walker, the director of long-range planning for Transportation and Natural Resources, takes into account “fiscal constraints” the county faces in the coming years. It is supposed to be a realistic figure, rather than an aspirational one.

In general, the plan received plaudits from commissioners. Commissioner Brigid Shea, however, voiced concerns about the potential to extend the recently opened State Highway 45 Southwest to connect MoPac Expressway and Interstate 35.

“There’s been a concerted effort to back into the creation of, essentially, a bypass from I-35 over to MoPac, which is a portion of the outer loop which was rejected by the community in the past,” said Shea. “I want to put that on the record.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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