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CAMPO adopts plan for transportation demand management

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to adopt its regional transportation demand management plan on Monday despite concerns that the plan could end up favoring urban projects to the detriment of rural counties.

The plan was created to streamline the process for projects that promote mode choices for travelers while managing pollution and traffic congestion. However, in approving the plan, the Transportation Policy Board also passed a provision that would award extra points in the prioritization phase to projects that are not part of the transportation demand management program, but still offer a mixture of infrastructure and design elements that benefit the region’s transportation goals.

The recommendation was unanimously endorsed by the CAMPO Technical Advisory Committee before coming to the board, but Vice Chair Cynthia Long said the lack of details around the provision made her wonder if the provision would give an unfair advantage to projects more likely to feature transportation demand management strategies.

While supporting the concept of reducing congestion in general, Long said she was unsettled by the vagueness of the amendment, which failed to specify the criteria that would be used to award the additional points when scoring a proposed project.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said the various transportation demand management strategies that she has pushed for in recent years are widely popular across the supposed urban/rural divide. Eckhardt listed congestion-priced toll lanes, park-and-ride lots, synchronized signalization and bus turnouts, among other efforts, as examples. What the amendment is not about, she added, is projects with bicycle and pedestrian paths.

“If that’s what folks are afraid of, that this is about tilting the scoring criteria for (non-transportation demand management) projects toward (bicycles and pedestrians), that’s not the intention here,” she clarified. “The intention here is that big infrastructure projects that have really large transportation throughput benefit also get a scoring benefit from showing how they’re braiding in (transportation demand management) and multimodal into their projects.”

Although Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty represents one of the region’s urban areas, he expressed hesitance in voting for the plan due to the potentially unfair advantage it may offer to projects in urban areas.

“I just don’t want it to be a scoring issue for some people where they are not comfortable, perhaps, with being able to compete with something,” Daugherty said. “Austin projects and Travis County projects are going to have a lot of (transportation demand management) stuff because that’s what Austin and Travis County thinks of whenever you start talking about mobility and transportation: It’s what can you do to persuade some or entice some to get out of single-occupant vehicle.”

Another of the Technical Advisory Committee’s recommended amendments – a plan to establish a targeted amount or a percentage of funds for transportation demand management in both the Transportation Improvement Plan and the Regional Transportation Plan – also highlighted the differing priorities of the region’s representatives.

Though Eckhardt said her intention is that the targeted amount would be very small “no matter how you slice it,” Burnet County Judge James Oakley questioned the value of having any amount, no matter the amount, exclusively for transportation demand management: “If you do a targeted amount … for that, are we going to have a targeted amount for red lights? Are we going to have a targeted amount for low-water crossings? … Where do you draw the line on what is encumbered? … Why have a predesignated amount that has to be awarded to that?”

The answer, according to Eckhardt, is plain: “Because we are a policy board and that’s what we do; we set priorities.”

The board ultimately adopted the plan with the recommendations of the Technical Advisory Committee with the agreement that more details on the provision would be provided at one of the board’s meetings in December or January.

The board unanimously approved the plan following a motion by Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. Austin City Council Member Alison Alter and Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan were both absent and voted by proxy.

The board also voted Monday under a separate item to incorporate a new definition of transportation demand management into the 2045 Transportation Plan that includes programmatic as well as operational and infrastructural elements. In addition, despite strong concerns raised by Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, the board also approved allocating $498,720 to CAMPO for transportation demand management programming.

The allocation initiates a transition phase moving funding away from the Capital Area Council of Governments’ relatively young Commute Solutions program, which Shea said has been very successful compared to previous efforts by CAMPO, and into the hands of CAMPO.

“As I understand it, when a similar transfer took place in San Antonio it took almost 10 months or more,” Shea said. “I don’t feel like we’re ready to make a decision to transfer almost half a million dollars out of an existing program that we voted to disband two years ago without more details.”

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

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