January 24, 2010
I recently left a job that it was my honor to hold for three years.
It was a position that’s provided a deeper view of our region’s economy and quality-of-life. It’s strengthened connections with our regional neighbors. And it’s helped plot Central Texas’ course for the next generation.
I stepped down as chairman of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) last Wednesday. Believe me, it only sounds boring.
CAMPO is Central Texas’ primary transportation planning group. It’s designated by the federal government to identify the highways, rail projects and other major transportation improvements that can and should be built in the region over the next quarter-century. If CAMPO doesn’t put a project in its plans, then that project can’t be built.
I think it’s vital that a position as influential as CAMPO chair rotate among the region’s leaders and not belong to just one elected official. That principle drove my decision.
I’ve also recommended that we maximize representation of CAMPO’s jurisdictions by replacing the three remaining state legislators on the CAMPO Board with locally elected officials — tying the board that much closer to the cities, counties and people of Central Texas, and to the challenges we all face.
I’ll continue working hard to solve the region’s traffic and transportation issues. For the foreseeable future, I’ll serve as vice chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. And I’ll keep fighting for badly needed transportation funding in the region and across the state, and for transparency and accountability in how that money gets spent.
But for CAMPO, it’s a good time to change gears.
After all, we’ve made a lot of progress in the last three years:
• We re-formed the board in 2007 so it better represents the people we serve, and we instituted new practices to get more public input.
• We not only approved long-sought highway improvements, but we did it in a way that asks the right questions, requires alternatives to be considered, and treats Central Texans as valued constituents and customers.
• After a national search, we hired a great executive director, Joe Cantalupo, who’s done an excellent job guiding the agency and its staff.
• We created what we call “Decision Trees,” ensuring that everyone knows as much as possible about efforts to add to our transportation system.
• And we did our part to reform the Capital Metro Transportation Authority, increasing transparency and accountability within the organization.
There’s a lot more good news to come.
• The state has set aside money to build a long-sought overpass at Ben White Boulevard and Riverside Drive near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport — and do it without tolls.
• This year, the state will probably break ground on the long-sought ramps connecting Ben White to both Interstate 35 South and MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1).
• I’m hopeful and I believe the state will provide needed liquidity to move forward on major capacity improvements on MoPac.
• The state will keep moving on the safety improvements to Texas 71 in the Hill Country west of Austin.
• And who knows — we might even have a commuter rail line opening up.
So I’m proud to report that CAMPO and the region’s transportation network are in better shape than it was three years. It’s the right time for local officials (who represent jurisdictions that directly build and maintain the region’s transportation infrastructure) to guide the agency in a direction we all want it to move in — one that gets us out of traffic.
And I’ll keep working to solve the mobility challenges that soak up our free time even as they undermine our economy. We should all share the goal of building a comprehensive transportation system in Central Texas. And we can all help achieve that goal — no matter what role we play.