Expert: Lack of Infrastructure Can Bust Austin – More Roads Are Needed

COST Commentary: This article is a brief description of a well known national “expert’s” opinion regarding the conflict between Austin’s real need for improved mobility and reduced congestion, with upgraded and expanded roads; and, the City leaders’ primary focus on ways to get people out of cars. Daily passenger miles traveled in Central Texas are 99% on roads, including private, transit, shared, commercial, government, school, emergency, etc.

COST agrees completely with the article’s conclusion that more roads are needed. New and improved roads should be the highest priority for allocation of transportation funds. Austin’s current transportation direction will significantly increase area congestion and degrade the downtown central core as a desirable destination for the vast majority of citizens. The City leaders’ approach to reduce congestion by getting people out of cars has no model of success.

Importantly, all future transportation planning should consider the impact of new technologies such as self-driving vehicles, enhanced “ride hailing” services, smart signalization, ramp metering and others. These will render current approaches to land use, parking, road lane capacity, public transit and others to be outdated in many cases. For example, “fixed” rail transit will be even more outdated than it already is and overall public transit will be require revamping.

Mr. Boomtown: Austin needs more roads
by Michael Theis, Austin Business Journal, May 17, 2016

Professor and author Joel Kotkin, speaking, will be in San Marcos Thursday to deliver remarks at the Greater San Marcos Economic Outlook event hosted by the Greater San Marcos Partnership.

Joel Kotkin knows a boomtown when he sees one.

Kotkin, an urban studies fellow at Chapman University, has made a career for himself by trying to find out what does and does not make a city boom. Austin has been at or near the top of his annual list of America’s Next Boomtowns, published by Forbes magazine, for years now.

Thursday, he’ll be speaking at the 2016 Greater San Marcos Economic Outlook event in San Marcos, where growth along the Austin-San Antonio corridor has put immense development pressure on the area. Census numbers released in 2014 put San Marcos as the fastest-growing city in America in the fastest-growing county in America, Hays County.

“This tech corridor, this growth corridor, that has opened up between Austin and San Antonio has seen extreme job growth,” said Kotkin. “There is certainly an enormous amount of momentum in that part of Texas.”

Part of that, Kotkin said, is because cities in Texas can offer more bang for their residents’ bucks.

“If you look at coastal cities, you’re really going to have to accept a pretty significant downsizing in how much space you have, the ease of getting around, and you’re going to have to accept a much more limited set of options because the cost of living is so high,” said Kotkin. “The cities on the coast have become more exclusionary. The cities in Texas have become more inclusionary.”

But as Austin’s boom continues, many recognize it can’t last forever. So what makes boomtowns go bust?
Inadequate infrastructure is often the culprit, Kotkin said. In Austin — a city that cites traffic as its No. 1 threat — that usually manifests itself in the form of bad mobility options.

“Austin is obviously the big bottleneck” in the region, said Kotkin, who encourages more road investments in Austin. “I don’t know what fantasy world some of their leaders live in, but they think we can have a lot of growth and choke the roads.”

Austin city leaders, however, are focused largely on ways to get people out of cars. Telecommuting, flex schedules, denser development and an urban rail line are seen as the best ways to fight traffic by the majority at City Hall. The prevailing municipal mentality is that it’s too costly to build and maintain more roads — and the more roads that are built, the more cars will be attracted. The state, on the other hand, is taking the lead on major road projects in the area such as those in the works for MoPac Expressway and I-35.

Other boomtowns have fizzled due to a variety of problems. In the early 2000s, for instance, Las Vegas was the ultimate boomtown. But in the housing crisis it was quite vulnerable. Construction — simply building houses — was a huge driver for the Vegas economy.

“When that faded, those economies faded,” said Kotkin. “The boomtown of the 1950s was Detroit. We know what happened there. Silicon Valley has been through several boom and bust cycles.

“But what is interesting,” Kotkin added, “is since 2000, through the small recession and then the big recession, Texan cities have really outperformed other big cities around the country, both in terms of migration and in job growth.”

Michael Theis
Staff writer
Austin Business Journal

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