In the Sept. 3 Viewpoints editorial, the American-Statesman argued that traffic congestion will increase in Austin, and that our community needs a tech solution to solve it. I want to thank the Statesman for recognizing this key issue and say that I agree that we need multiple resources to address our traffic woes. In fact, at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, that is what we do.
We’re here to build mobility solutions. Sometimes it’s a road, sometimes not. We built the 183A Toll road in Cedar Park and Leander, which has transformed those communities even as they have experienced exponential growth. We built the U.S. 290 toll road between Austin and Manor, which tripled the capacity of the previous road while improving the nontoll lanes that were there before. We’re not a private company; we’re a local and accountable agency established by the people of Travis and Williamson counties.
At the Mobility Authority, the heart of our mission is to innovate. The new MoPac Express Lanes we’re building will institute variable tolling that uses sophisticated technology to help manage traffic flow. The reality is that as much as we’d like to, we can’t eliminate congestion entirely; the MoPac footprint isn’t big enough for that. But people who really need to get to that job interview or a big concert will have a reliable commute. Variable tolling rates will synchronize supply and demand to ensure a predictable flow of traffic. We want to make sure the Express Lane is moving even when the other lanes are crawling along at rush hour.
Where possible, we are dedicated to baking technology solutions into our future projects to make them “smart roads.” Fiber lines will be embedded along the 183 South project we’re building between US 290 and the airport, anticipating the day when vehicles will be able to “talk” to road infrastructure. For example, a roadway could detect a car that’s going the wrong way up an exit ramp.
We partnered with Metropia to create a mobile traffic app that’s integrated with our traffic monitoring system to provide real-time alternative routes for commuters. We’re working with Carma, a carpooling app, to encourage commuters to share their ride. The percentage of drivers who drive alone in Austin equates to 900,000 empty car seats a day. If we can take some of those seats and fill them with carpoolers, we can make a serious improvement in our congestion.
The Statesman cites solutions suggested in the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s “2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard.” They’re good ideas. I know, because we’re doing many of them.
The report mentions the need to encourage residents to walk and pedal. Where possible, the Mobility Authority builds Shared Use Paths along our projects. These provide dedicated pedestrian and bicycle paths that tie in to existing trails, as they do in Williamson County along 183A. Another visible sign of this commitment is our bike/pedestrian bridge going up over MoPac just south of Parmer Lane.
The Statesman touched on a key problem in our community: congestion created by repetitive starting and stopping of drivers on busy roadways. In many cases, this is caused by minor breakdowns. Getting drivers moving again or off the road quickly can make dramatic improvements on congestion. The Mobility Authority also has a solution to that. With support from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, our Highway Emergency Response Operator (HERO) program provides free roadside assistance to help motorists with minor problems, which frequently become major traffic nightmares. The roads we patrol – all of Interstate 35 from Hays County to Georgetown, as well as parts of U.S. 183 — are not even Mobility Authority roads. But that’s where the congestion is.
We don’t have all the solutions — but we have some of them. We’re partnering with the Texas Department of Transportation, the counties and cities of Central Texas and anyone else who has a stake in beating traffic jams in the area. Because tackling traffic is our job. We’re local, accountable and all about solutions. After all, we live here and we drive the roads here, too.
Heiligenstein is the executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.