May 8, 2008
“It’s a very significant point in the history of transportation planning in this community,” heralded Sen. KirkWatson. After five months, the Transit Working Group this week unanimously endorsed a new, improved Transportation Investment Decision Tree. By strengthening the evaluation criteria for assessing all proposed transit and road projects regionally, and setting a standard that proposed projects be evaluated uniformly on their merits, the new decision tree has the power to transform regional transportation planning. All projects requiring federal funds or approvals (e.g., environmental) must be accepted into the long-range plan of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. To get there, said Watson, who is the CAMPO chair, they’ll now have to pass muster by an Investment Decision Tree analysis, which will require that the following questions be addressed: 1) Is the process transparent and accountable? 2) What is the purpose of the project? Can it create the following benefits? If so, how? 3) What does the project cost?
Under No. 2, the specific benefits cited as desirable should bode well for public transit: mobility, economic development/community, environmental and public health, social equity/quality of life. Another 11 criteria address other cost, funding, financing, timeline, legislative/electoral, and cost/benefit issues.
The downside to this new method: The complexity of the evaluation process, and the detailed information it requires, make it nigh to impossible for the city of Austin’s streetcar proposal (or the city of Elgin’s “Sausage Link”) to make it through CAMPO in time for a November referendum. Mayor Will Wynn set that goal last year, but most recently, he’s expressed firm commitment to putting the city’s urban rail circulator project through a full Investment Decision Tree vetting – however long that takes. The advantage: When voters do see a rail proposal, they’ll know the hard details on its precise costs and benefits.
Expressing frustration with the now-evident procedural impossibility of a November election was TWG member and transit advocate Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock. Referencing current Downtown traffic gridlock, Krusee said, “I think it’s a shame, because the crisis is upon us now.”