On December 15, 2016, the 19th annual “Williamson County Growth Summit” convened with several hundred attendees at the Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel and Conference Center. The Austin Business Journal’s summit was designed to update business and governmental entities on economic growth potentials in the region, including a focused assessment of Austin’s and Williamson’s opportunities to manage shared transportation concerns.
Panel Focusing on Transportation Specifics. Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein (Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority) was joined by Joseph Kopser (RideScout), Texas External Affairs Director Leandre Johns (Uber Technologies Inc.), and Transportation Futurist Jared Ficklin (ArgoDesign ) in a panel discussion examining the interface between technology and transportation needs for Austin and its counties (i.e., Hays, Travis, and Williamson). Ficklin, an advocate of emerging technology, noted that building and land-use codes, adoption of driverless vehicles, and infrastructure permits must become more flexible to accommodate urban transportation evolution.
Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTMRA). While self-driving vehicles and fostering greater ride-sharing will impact the Greater Austin infrastructure with their innovations, Heiligenstein noted that the region was really facing transportation capacity issues. Even with a projected 5% utilization of automated vehicles, influx of new citizens will offset any reduction of vehicles on high traffic routes like US Highway 183 and State Highway 290. Twelve lanes for traffic should be anticipated in the future. By building additional roadways and modifying roads to make them “smarter” in managing traffic flow, infrastructure for area commuters should be the focus for moving people in and in-and-out of the developing suburbs.
Big Picture for Transportation. Mass transportation over numbers of miles, e.g., suburb to urban core, is an appropriate focus for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority given its mandate to enhance the economic and quality-of-life in the Greater Austin area. Heiligenstein observed that “Williamson has done such an amazing job of structuring its infrastructure over the past 15 years or so. But you are still going to have more people coming here. [We should] try building [and] expanding … the corridors we have remaining … to make them smarter, more efficient and more technically advanced.” RideScout’s Kopser suggested that the Big Picture is important; but from a more narrow viewpoint, commuters accessing mass transportation still need support for connecting to the transportation system and connecting from that system to their final destinations.