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Wednesday, November 6, 2019 by Ryan Thornton
CAMPO chooses not to accept Regional Arterials Study
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2045 Regional Arterials Study was renamed and heavily critiqued by the Transportation Policy Board on Monday.
The $1.5 million study is a big-picture transportation modeling exercise that was intended to serve as a kind of connectivity wish list for local governments across the region. But after taking a closer look, board members said the analysis of potential arterials is so broad and confusing it should neither be called a study nor accepted as a planning guide.
The study is particularly attractive for smaller jurisdictions that don’t have the resources to create a transportation plan of their own. Lakeway Mayor Sandy Cox told the board that, for cities like hers that don’t have a seat at the board’s table, it represents a way to have their voices heard regarding specific mobility challenges. Even if some of the study’s concepts are unpopular, she said, it’s still an important step in the right direction.
On the other hand, the study is less enticing for larger jurisdictions like Travis County and the city of Austin that have their own transportation plans already in the works. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said the study doesn’t offer her much useful data and contradicts county plans at the same time.
“I feel like I would be required to abandon some of my county’s stated priorities in order to adopt this regional arterials concept inventory and its modeling exercise because of how it’s styled,” she explained.
Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea noted one particularly troubling piece of the study mentions a possible arterial that could be routed through the protected wildlands of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.
Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said he would support the study in order to help meet Lakeway’s needs, but he also questioned the value of many of the proposed connections and the overall arterials analysis.
Council Member Alison Alter, who had similar objections, said she would not vote in favor of accepting the study in any formal process. “I’ve seen firsthand what happens when people see a study and it has things that are studied, but aren’t real,” she said. “I just think this has all the makings of being confusing for folks.”
The arterials study is already a public document. Its numerous projects are not part of any actual plan but are meant to be used as a way for local governments to select projects to submit for inclusion in the 2045 Long Range Plan when it is adopted in May 2020. Those entities would also need to provide a funding source for any chosen projects.
The study outlines six general scenarios to deal with an expected regional population of over 4 million by 2045. The scenarios range in cost and scope from the no-build Scenario Z to the nearly $60 billion Scenario C, with its over 6,000 lane-mile investment in major and minor arterials. (The total length and lane count of highways are measured in lane miles.)
Eckhardt said the various modeling scenarios are a good start, but she’s frustrated that they don’t allow local governments to add or remove specific projects and run the models to see the results on measures like vehicle miles or hours of travel.
San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson suggested accepting the study, but calling it an inventory to avoid confusion. That idea took hold, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler also proposed changing the meeting language to reflect that the board “received” rather than “accepted” the briefing on what would now be known as the Regional Arterials Inventory.
None of the board members objected to these changes. The arterials document will remain on the organization’s website unless the board chooses to have it removed at a later time.
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