Moving Along: Planning Transportation Systems for Austin’s Future

A lot of people are moving to Austin, Texas. Migration has made the city and its surrounding Williamson County suburbs one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States. Of course, more people means more traffic and all of the transportation challenges that go with urban growth.


For the past 19 years, the Austin Business Journal has sponsored the annual Williamson County Growth Summit. The 2016 meeting, held on December 15, focused on transportation issues. The summit brought together policymakers and business leaders. It focused on transportation technology and traffic problems presented by rapid suburban growth. Participants included Mike Helligenstein, Executive Director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, and Leandre Johns, Uber Technologies Inc. Texas External Affairs Director.


Helligenstein emphasized the need for more roads. He said this is especially true in the suburbs, which is where most of the increase in population and traffic is taking place. He supports expansion of mass transit, but pointed out that this is likely to be offset by rapid growth. Technology is a key. Helligestein says Austin needs roads that are more efficient, smarter and technologically advanced.


Modern communications technology has opened up new possibilities for managing urban traffic, according to Leandre Johns. As an example, he described a “first and last mile” concept. The idea is to coordinate ride sharing like Uber with public transportation to make it easy for commuters to get to and from bus stops. The easier this is, Johns says, the more consumers will be attracted to public transit ans an alternative to driving.


Another topic raised at the summit was the need to consider how changing transportation technology will affect policy issues like building codes. For example, the advent of autonomous (self-driving) cars, hybrids and all-electric vehicles offers interesting options. A parking garage with clearance of no more than five feet, complete with built-in charging stations, is one option. However, innovations like this require changes in building codes.


The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is the key public institution for addressing transportation issues in the area. It was created in 2002 to provide a unified and independent transportation agency for Travis and Williamson counties. CTRMA is overseen by a seven-member board of directors.


CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein spent 23 years as an elected official before assuming his current position. He is a widely recognized expert on urban transportation issues. Heiligenstein is a graduate of Tex&s A&M University, and holds master’s degrees in business and government.

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