Long-term in­vest­ment in tran­sit up­grades vi­tal

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS -

Last month, Cap­i­tal Metro de­buted a draft sys­tem map as part of Project Con­nect. The goal is to build a re­gional tran­sit net­work that pre­serves our qual­ity of life and helps ad­dress the re­gion’s af­ford­abil­ity is­sues.

We’ve been work­ing at it for a cou­ple of years al­ready, but we’re just get­ting started. Project Con­nect will be a multi­gen­er­a­tional in­vest­ment in our re­gion’s fu­ture. This draft plan isn’t nec­es­sar­ily rec­om­mend­ing run­ning light rail on La­mar and Guadalupe, say, or a street­car on South Congress.

The map show­cases 11 cor­ri­dors through­out Cen­tral Texas we’ve de­ter­mined would ben­e­fit the most from ded­i­cated tran­sit ser­vices. What we mean by that is tran­sit ve­hi­cles trav­el­ing in their own lanes, free from the reg­u­lar flow of traf­fic.

I don’t want to im­ply that we can get rid of traf­fic conges­tion al­to­gether. Big cities have traf­fic prob­lems — and there’s no deny­ing that Cen­tral Texas is grow­ing faster all the time. The long-range re­port from the Cap­i­tal Area Metropoli­tan Plan­ning Or­ga­ni­za­tion pre­dicts that Cen­tral Texas will be home to 4 mil­lion res­i­dents by 2040.

I lived in Greater Bos­ton for 13 years. It has 4.7 mil­lion peo­ple and eight re­gional tran­sit agen­cies that op­er­ate three sub­ways, five light rail lines, four bus rapid tran­sit lines, 12 com­muter rail lines plus fer­ries. And it is by no means conges­tion free, but peo­ple have op­tions.

Now, pic­ture Austin in 20 years with just our two MetroRapid routes, one Metro­Rail line and 4 mil­lion peo­ple. We need so­lu­tions — and we need to think big!

Con­struc­tion on the first of these projects won’t be­gin for a few more years at least, and some of what we’re propos­ing won’t be com­pleted for 10 to 15 years. But these changes will ben­e­fit Cen­tral Texas for decades af­ter. That’s what we mean when we say multi­gen­er­a­tional in­vest­ment.

Our ma­jor fo­cus these days is Cap Remap, an over­haul of our bus net­work that will make the sys­tem more fre­quent, more re­li­able and bet­ter con­nected. It looks at the tools we have now and makes them work more ef­fi­ciently and more ef­fec­tively.

Project Con­nect will re­quire in­vest­ment, though. You may have seen some num­bers float­ing around out there since we de­buted the draft sys­tem map in March — $6 bil­lion to $10 bil­lion. That’s not a fi­nal cost, of course. It’s a pre­lim­i­nary es­ti­mate, a range that these projects could fall in. And it’s a cost that will be borne over many years.

To give some per­spec­tive, vot­ers in sev­eral cities na­tion­wide have com­mit­ted to ma­jor tran­sit in­vest­ments in re­cent years, in­clud­ing Los Angeles ($120 bil­lion), Seat­tle ($54 bil­lion) and Phoenix ($31 bil­lion).

What’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand is that in­vest­ment equals re­sults. We’ve seen that time and again. When you in­vest in ser­vices that give peo­ple op­tions, they take you up on them.

Cap­i­tal Metro’s past in­vest­ments have proven just that. We de­voted in­creased re­sources and smart plan­ning to our MetroRapid ser­vice in 2017 and have seen a 43 per­cent in­crease in rid­er­ship year over year. In Jan­uary, we added ser­vice to our MetroEx­press routes, and we’ve seen a 20 per­cent in­crease on the ser­vice’s MoPac routes.

Whether it’s on steel wheels or rub­ber tires, peo­ple will need to travel on these 11 cor­ri­dors to get where they need to go. And we need to pro­vide them with a bet­ter op­tion than what’s avail­able now.

The im­por­tant thing is that these tran­sit ser­vices will need to op­er­ate in their own right-ofway — on train tracks or in ded­i­cated bus lanes. That’s why we’re work­ing so closely with the cities, coun­ties and other stake­holder groups. Our part­ner­ships are go­ing to be es­sen­tial through­out this process.

We have been work­ing more closely than ever with the Austin Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment and other re­gional part­ners.

It’s go­ing to take team work and it’s go­ing to take co­or­di­na­tion. We’ll also look to the fed­eral govern­ment for fund­ing as­sis­tance.

I’m as com­mit­ted to find­ing com­mu­nity so­lu­tions as all of you are. So, you’ll hear a lot more from us in the com­ing years, and we want to hear a lot more from you on po­ten­tial so­lu­tions.

De­ci­sions have con­se­quences — and so does in­ac­tion. In­vest­ments in the near fu­ture are go­ing to se­cure the unique qual­ity of life in Cen­tral Texas for gen­er­a­tions to come.

RODOLFO GON­ZA­LEZ / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN 2014

There’s no deny­ing that Cen­tral Texas is grow­ing faster all the time. The long-range re­port from the Cap­i­tal Area Metropoli­tan Plan­ning Or­ga­ni­za­tion pre­dicts that Cen­tral Texas will be home to 4 mil­lion res­i­dents by 2040.

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