In June, the board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) -- the multi-jurisdictional entity that oversees transportation planning in Travis, Williamson and Hays Counties -- is set to adopt its CAMPO Mobility 2030 Plan, the latest version of its long-range transportation plan for the region. (This planning effort is required by state and federal law, covers a 25-year planning horizon, and is updated every five years.)
After reviewing the draft (currently available at www.campotexas.org) and talking with local citizens and leaders, Liveable City feels the CAMPO 2030 Plan is unacceptable --it does not fix our traffic problems, it does not reflect community values, it is not affordable, and it runs counter to the vision that Central Texas has endorsed for its future.
Liveable City has adopted a resolution, also signed by other community organizations (including ; ), calling on CAMPO's Transportation Policy Board to reject the 2030 Plan as drafted. Instead, the board (comprised of elected and appointed local and state officials) should seek a substantial strategic revision that serves to advance Central Texas toward its community goals of managed growth, sustainability, and equity.
According to CAMPO, the region is required to meet a mid-June federal deadline for the adoption of a long-range plan. Staff at CAMPO have indicated the organization's willingness and desire to make changes in the future -- to the specifics of the plan itself, and to the way CAMPO and the region approach the transportation planning challenge. Final approval of the 2030 Plan has already been delayed in response to serious concerns among many of the jurisdictions (most notably, the City of Austin and Travis County) represented on the CAMPO board.
Liveable City hopes this delay will lead to substantial improvements in the 2030 Plan. In any event, we think the CAMPO board needs to respond to the community by making strong and immediate commitment to begin transforming our regional transportation plan into the document we really need and want.
Why the 2030 Plan fails
Simply put, the problem with the 2030 Plan is that it's not appreciably different from previous CAMPO plans. In recent years, and certainly since the now-expiring plan was adopted in 2000, Central Texans have made loud and clear that they don't like the transportation status quo and don't want to see it continue. The 2030 Plan should be the first opportunity to reflect this new community consensus. But it doesn't.
Instead, CAMPO bases this long-range plan on assumptions that the population of the three-county area -- which it expects will nearly double by 2030 -- will continue to sprawl out into the countryside, including over the Edwards Aquifer; that just as many, if not more, of the trips in the region will be made by people driving alone; and that the rising cost of driving will not appreciably change travel behavior.
This echoes the "status quo" Scenario A developed by Envision Central Texas, a planning process that involved citizens and elected officials across five central Texas counties. However, Scenario A was overwhelmingly rejected by the tens of thousands of citizens who participated in ECT's community visioning project. Instead, those citizens, by wide margins, endorsed scenarios that reflect a fundamentally different way of managing growth, emphasizing density and mixed use, regional jobs/housing balance, protecting open space and the environment, and providing more transportation and land use choices.
Of course, one can argue that the preferred ECT vision is a vision, and it's CAMPO's job to do a realistic assessment of the region's needs. But all sensible planners and policymakers, including the staff of CAMPO, publicly acknowledge that the transportation investments detailed in the 2030 Plan will go a long way toward creating the land-use and growth patterns of the future. If regional leaders are as serious as they claim to be about wanting to make the ECT vision a reality, now is the right time, and the CAMPO 2030 Plan is the right place.
In addition to the 2030 Plan's basic failure to address this new community consensus, it contains several more specific elements that Liveable City finds problematic. The many thousands of citizens who, like Liveable City, opposed the regional toll road plan -- adopted last year by CAMPO as an amendment to the now-expiring long-range plan -- will find little in the 2030 Plan that indicates toll roads are even controversial, let alone measures that address the toll plan's financial, social, and environmental problems. And despite the fact that public opinion couldn't be much more clearly against major development over the Edwards Aquifer, the 2030 Plan still calls for unacceptable road projects in the area.
What's more, even with all of these problems, the 2030 Plan still doesn't actually reduce or even stabilize traffic congestion in the region. According to CAMPO, under the 2030 Plan the number of congested roadways in the three-county area would triple, and travel times would likewise substantially increase, over baseline 2000 levels. Throughout the plan, performance measures like this are compared to a "no-build" alternative -- what would happen if the region experienced the expected growth but made no new transportation investments at all. Naturally, the 2030 Plan's performance is better than the no-build scenario. But what the plan is missing is any comparison to alternatives that invest our limited resources in different ways. Such an analysis might find that other strategies are wiser, better tailored to community goals, and more sustainable, while also doing more to improve mobility -- the primary purpose of CAMPO.
What needs to be done
It's true, as some (including, indirectly, CAMPO itself) have pointed out, that the 2030 Plan is not as bad as it could have been. The plan does not further extend the planned tollway system, and roads that in past plans were slated to become freeways are instead set for "corridor studies" to weigh alternative transportation options. The plan also calls for increased investments in bicycle/pedestrian facilities and public transportation. And the plan "outlines some steps that CAMPO will be taking to more robustly coordinate regional land use and transportation in the future."
Staff at CAMPO have indicated that the scores of individual projects in the 2030 Plan project list -- including both roadways and other infrastructure -- have been evaluated under the preferred Envision Central Texas growth scenario. The results of this evaluation are not in the 2030 Plan draft, and Liveable City feels this important information should be released immediately for review by the public and the CAMPO board.
However, Liveable City feels CAMPO must go farther, and soon, to revise its plan to only include projects that are consistent with, that perform well and that serve to relieve congestion under the preferred ECT vision. A footnote in the 2030 Plan notes, with apparent approval, that after implementing its similar vision (high density, mixed use, alternative transportation) for its region, Vancouver, B.C., has seen such a significant decrease in peak-hour auto travel that local planners are now trying to figure out how to remove unnecessary roadway lane miles. It would be much simpler in Austin to not build those roads in the first place.
This approach could also help CAMPO deal with the ever-growing financial burden of the transportation status quo. By law, the 2030 Plan has to be "fiscally constrained," not just a wish-list of roads people might like to see built someday. The financial assumptions CAMPO cites to justify the 2030 Plan's fiscal soundness already include such elements as $3 billion in toll-road financing, an as-yet-hypothetical increase in the gasoline tax, and expected "private sector contributions" -- all revenue sources whose long-term stability has yet to be proven.
But CAMPO also claims that (again, based on its status-quo vision) the actual needs of the region exceed even the $22 billion price tag of the 2030 Plan, and contemplates even more aggressive and speculative financing sources in the future. Liveable City believes now is the time to instead refocus our planning with a goal of financial, as well as environmental and social, sustainability. Instead of building roads we don't need and can't afford, we need to change the way we develop the region and use its resources to create long-term stability and balance.