Panelists talk transportation at Real Estate Council of Austin forum


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RECA Luncheon Oct. 11From left: At the Real Estate Council of Austin's Ideas Forum Luncheon on Oct. 11, Shannon Wolfson with KXAN News moderates a forum featuring panelists including Bruce Byron with the Texas Department of Transportation; Will Conley, chairman of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board; John Michael Cortez with the city of Austin; Mike Heiligenstein with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority; and Beverly Silas with Capital Metro.Kelli Weldon/Community Impact Newspaper

Collaboration is key in initiatives to relieve congestion in Central Texas, including MoPac express lanes, Mobility35 and the November city of Austin transportation bond, panelists said at the Real Estate Council of Austin’s Ideas Forum Luncheon on Oct. 11 at the JW Marriott in downtown Austin.

Here are some of the points panelists made at the forum.

Local agencies should work together

Panelists discussed the importance of proper land use when planning for roadways and other projects. Addressing regional congestion problems requires adding capacity in every sector of the region—not just Austin, said Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

“We have got to invest in key arteries,” he said.

Will Conley, chairman of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board, said the state of Texas has made it clear it wants to partner with local regional authorities to develop and deliver transportation projects.

“We need to continue to collaborate. There is not one project done in this state anymore of any significance that doesn’t have multiple partners and multiple agencies as part of that program,” he said, citing examples such as proposed toll road SH 45 SW in Travis and Hays counties as well as projects along I-35, which involve collaboration among the state and agencies including CAMPO; the Mobility Authority; the Texas Department of Transportation; and cities in Williamson, Travis and Hays counties.

Multimodal plans

Moderator Shannon Wolfson with KXAN News asked panelists how the region can work to get people to use other modes of transportation besides driving.

“Express lanes are going to matter,” Heiligenstein said, noting establishing a faster route for Capital Metro express bus lanes could help relieve potential riders’ fears of getting on a bus and then being stuck in traffic.

Capital Metro board member Beverly Silas said the area needs myriad options, including transportation network companies, bikes and transit as options.

Mobility bond

Tuesday is the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 8 election, which includes the city’s $720 million mobility bond proposition. The bond contains various projects to improve mobility throughout the city, including regional roadwork, studies on major corridors, sidewalk construction and bus pullout lanes.

John Michael Cortez, special assistant to the city of Austin Mayor said the cost to alleviate all transportation needs in the area would be somewhere around $9.5 billion.

Cortez said transit is used in Central Austin but not much elsewhere, and projects in the mobility bond that would establish sidewalks and opportunities to connect with existing transit hubs are one step toward less traffic.

RECA is supporting the city’s mobility bond proposition.

Mike Heilegenstein, executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, speaks at the Real Estate Council of Austin's Ideas Forum Luncheon on Oct. 11 at the JW Marriott in downtown Austin.

Moving forward

Traffic control lights can add to congestion, Heilegenstein said, noting that the revamped tolled expressway 183 South that will start opening in 2019 will have 12 lanes—six nonstop 80 mph lanes and six similar to what exists today.

“You’ll be able to go from Liberty Hill to the airport without stopping at 80 miles per hour,” he said.

Bruce Byron, a project manager with TxDOT, said adding toll lanes to roads such as Loop 360 is a way to maximize the minimum of two lanes that can be added.

“Nobody likes tolling. … But the reality is, that’s the only way we’re going to get effective control over those lanes,” he said.

Conley noted many of the regional transportation authorities agree on how to move forward into the next 10 years, despite panelists voicing a few different ideas and opinions about how to move forward from a longer-term perspective.

“Let’s talk about our future, but at the same time let’s also develop these projects that we’re all in agreement on,” Conley said.