Tuesday, May 5, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

CAMPO adopts a plan without a plan

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board adopted a planning document Monday afternoon that falls far short of the expectations of community members and many regional leaders alike.

The 2045 Regional Transportation Plan is intended to supersede the existing transportation plan to help guide roadway connections and expansions and other transportation activities for the next 25 years, but several board members expressed regret that the plan lacks any comprehensive strategic framework that could be considered “planning.”

Unlike with previous plans, CAMPO staff spent years studying corridors, regional transit and land use patterns while developing the 2045 RTP. Even so, Mayor Steve Adler said the final product is a “huge missed opportunity” to concentrate on the region’s top priorities and most-needed projects.

“At the end of the day I can vote for this because it doesn’t really do anything,” Adler said. “It has everything in it; it didn’t pick priorities. And it’s a shame that becomes a reason why you can vote for something.”

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who also voted for the plan, agreed it’s “pretty much an undifferentiated list.”

“Often folks say, I will not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In this instance, I will not let the good be the enemy of the minimally serviceable. And I will vote for the minimally serviceable and I will stay on the team trying to help us get to a moment where we can actually, colorably be described as a planning organization,” Eckhardt said.

In September 2019, Eckhardt proposed the board amend its policies by creating a comprehensive definition of transportation demand management, adding vehicle miles traveled and travel time reliability as relevant metrics, allowing projects to be given higher scores for TDM elements, and adding a target for 5 percent of federal funding to be used for programmatic TDM projects.

Eckhardt’s proposal explicitly stated her intention that the amendments be incorporated into the 2045 plan, but CAMPO Executive Director Ashby Johnson told the board Monday that the 5 percent target was not included because it was not clear that the board had adopted the 5 percent target. Chair Cynthia Long said she believed staff members were directed in September to bring back a specific funding target for TDM projects. Eckhardt, however, maintained that the board’s vote clearly approved the proposed 5 percent target.

“If this board can ignore previous votes of its own then we have no planning.” Eckhardt said. “If we’re going to throw out the entirety of the vote because of a convenient failure of memory by this staff then we have no planning.”

Unable to agree on the question of the specific funding target, the board voted to amend the 2045 plan to include each of Eckhardt’s amendments besides the 5 percent. This time, Eckhardt asked CAMPO staff for a specific funding target for consideration by the board within a month.

While Long pushed the plan forward in order to prevent it from becoming “stale,” Adler and Council Member Jimmy Flannigan echoed concerns from the public that the timing of the plan update on the eve of a population census and in the middle of an unprecedented economic and health crisis severely undermines much of its potential value.

“Transportation decision-making in the region is seriously hindered by the primitive, flawed nature of the existing and currently proposed draft regional growth forecasts,” said Jay Crossley of nonprofit Farm&City.

With the current changes to transportation patterns, Hays County resident Deborah Morris said a pause is in order to study transportation habits and determine whether or not work commute patterns may be permanently altered by Covid-19.

A recently added page of the plan states that Covid-19 has shifted the agency’s outlook on transportation demand management strategies like teleworking.

“(The pandemic) has reduced demand on the transportation network. One thing that has been learned thus far is that although the majority of American workers cannot telework, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this crisis may provide some insight into the potential benefits of more teleworking policies. Not all residents have the ability to telework, but CAMPO recognizes that this crisis is an opportunity to discuss the benefits of TDM strategies and related equity impacts,” the plan states.

Voting against the plan, Flannigan said there may be much more opportunity for meaningful planning in the 2050 update to the regional plan. “Given all of the pandemic and delays and the impact to our economy, it doesn’t seem like there is going to be a lot of tax revenue over the next five years, or oil and gas money for that matter, for additional road construction.”

The board adopted the plan 18-2-1 with Council members Alison Alter and Flannigan and Commissioner Brigid Shea opposed.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

CAMPO: The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is the regional planning organization for Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson Counties. Its membership is drawn from the elected officials of those municipalities, as well as various cities that fall within the region, including the City of Austin. CAMPO's focus is on regional transportation issues.

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