GETTING AUSTIN MOVING AGAIN

I can tell you the exact day that Austin’s traffic problems started: December 27, 1839. That’s the day we incorporated, with about 500 residents.  From then until now, our population has at least doubled in size about every 25 years. Today our city is home to over 1 million people, with nearly 2.3 million living across the entire Austin-Round Rock area. We are the 11th largest city in the country, and remain one of the fastest-growing regions (Georgetown and Leander were America’s fastest-growing ‘large’ cities between 2020 and 2021).

It was inevitable that such dramatic population growth would strain Austin’s infrastructure.  But for many years, we fell dramatically behind on investing in our transportation network – a serious misstep for which we are now paying a heavy price. While the pandemic gave us a temporary reprieve and changed how many people commute, Austin traffic congestion is still ranked among the very worst in the country.

It’s tempting to think of our traffic congestion as just a major annoyance.  It’s not. Congestion not only jeopardizes lives (there were 121 traffic fatalities in Austin in 2021, the most on record) and harms our environment and climate (congested traffic generates significantly more air pollution than free-flowing traffic), it’s also a ‘driving’ force behind our single biggest current challenge, affordability.  It’s not too complicated – the longer it takes us to get from where we live to where we work, learn or play, the more it costs us in time and money. 

If the first and best solution is to deliver more housing options, the second must be to improve our transportation system. That means we need more and better roads and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure across the whole city and region, but also a major expansion of our public transit system. Especially now, public transit is a lifeline for so many in our community who rely on a bus or train to get to and from a job or school. That’s the most basic reason I’ve worked hard to expand transit in Austin for so many years and would continue to do so as mayor.

Here’s the bottom line: with so many Austin families struggling to make ends meet, for the City and its partners to continue to fall behind on transportation would be simply inexcusable.

Fortunately, the City, Austin voters, and our regional and state partners have recognized the need to invest in real solutions, and as of now approximately $25 billion worth of major regional mobility infrastructure projects are either in the pipeline or already underway. This includes billions for reconstruction of Interstate 35, the Project Connect rail and rapid bus plan, the airport expansion, and $1.5 billion in voter-approved bonds for mobility improvements.

Now our central challenge as a city and region is very clearly to ensure that these massive, potentially transformational transportation projects are executed with maximum efficiency, speed, accountability, and equity and that we have taken every possible step to minimize the disruption to our lives and businesses. To help meet that challenge as mayor, I propose to:

CREATE THE TRANSPORTATION CONSTRUCTION COMMAND CENTER

With the scale and scope of transportation construction projects coming online, it is critical to ensure that every state, regional and local jurisdiction that owns any piece of the process is pulling in the same direction. A failure to actively and carefully coordinate could not only be hugely expensive but also create a wide range of disastrous effects – and not just for Austinites but for people across the region. To optimize our approach, as mayor I would work to create a regional Transportation Construction Command Center – a new, daily working partnership between the City of Austin, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, the Austin Transit Partnership, Capital Metro, county governments, public safety, and emergency response agencies, and potentially a range of other stakeholders, to create an integrated ongoing approach to managing our major mobility projects. Command Center partners should aggressively collaborate to streamline and optimize the planning, design, contracting, permitting, and construction of projects, including developing and executing strategies to mitigate impact.  

LAUNCH “511” TRANSPORTATION INFORMATION SERVICES

While we’re ensuring that major new mobility projects are carefully coordinated and managed, we must also empower our community to efficiently navigate the inevitable disruptions. To that end, I propose to work together with public and private sector partners to launch “511” transportation information services in Austin and Central Texas. “511” is the FCC-designated three-digit dialing code for travelers to access information about road conditions; it is active at the state level in other parts of the country, but only regionally (in the Dallas-Fort Worth area) in Texas. In addition to “511” phone service, I propose also to launch 511atx.com and a companion mobile app to provide drivers with real-time mapped information on construction, accidents, events, and traffic conditions, and allow travelers to easily plan routes to minimize delay. If elected, my goal will be to bring “511” service online by early 2024. 

HOLD ACCOUNTABILITY SESSIONS EVERY SIX MONTHS

Along with massive public projects and budgets must come maximum transparency and accountability. As we begin to remake our transportation network, our community needs to know how, where, when, and why their resources are being utilized. Austinites also need to understand, on an ongoing basis, exactly what is being done to protect vulnerable communities from displacement and to ensure equity as we invest in mobility. As mayor, I would hold public “accountability sessions” at least every six months, where Austinites will receive a detailed briefing on the status of each of our major transportation projects, including information on equity outcomes, and be able to ask direct questions to project managers.

FAST-TRACK EXPANSION OF THE AUSTIN AIRPORT

With a record-breaking 20 million passengers projected to pass through Austin Bergstrom International Airport this year, the entire facility is bursting at the seams. There is relief on the horizon with $6 billion slated for expansion, but in my view, we are already years behind where we should be. Our airport connects us to the world and as such plays a vital role in growing and sustaining our economy; when it underperforms, it has a real impact on Austinites. If elected mayor, I’ll make it a top priority to fast-track the ABIA expansion plan.