With the future of transportation issues looming overhead, the typical discussions about Austin itself have taken a backseat to concerns about the overall Austin area in the latest Williamson County Growth Summit. This December 2016 discussion focused on the transportation challenges and needs of the entire region, particularly Austin’s suburban communities.
The discussion’s panel included many experts like Uber Technologies’ Leandre Johns, RideScout founder Joseph Kopser, ArgoDesign’s Jared Ficklin, and Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s (CTRMA) Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein. The discussion, which was held at the Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel & Conference Center, focused on how technology has been and will be changed the transportation industry in not only the Austin area, but all over the world.
Mike Heiligenstein led the discussion, pointing out that even though new technologies could transform transportation (like driverless vehicles and ridesharing apps), the area still must focus on the immediate issue at hand by investing in transportation growth. He believes that the area must focus on growing its capacity and build more roads, in addition to smarter roads. The best way to serve transportation demands is to focus on where the population is growing the fastest- the city’s suburbs. While Heiligenstein believes that the county has done an amazing job thus far of structuring transportation, they still must meet the needs of the future population by building smart, more efficient roads.
When Mayor of Round Rock Alan McGraw asked the panel a question regarding what policymakers must do to prepare for the future’s transportation needs, Jared Ficklin from ArgoDesign had a few ideas. According to Ficklin, policymakers’ most important job will be to keep building and land-use codes flexible. He used driverless cars as an example, stating that the parking garages of the future will only need to be five feet tall and will need to have charging stations on each level. Those specifics do not currently fit into any building code, meaning that policymakers must keep their minds open to the flexibility of the future.
While Mike Heiligenstein agrees with flexibility being a necessity of the future, he believes Austin and the county still need to focus on roads. With the rate of growth they are experiencing, any current transportation work is being nullified, so they need to find a way to create smarter, efficient roads.
The CTRMA is an independently-run government agency that was founded in 2002 to help improve transportation systems within Williamson and Travis counties. Mike Heiligenstein is the Executive Director of the CTRMA and has been a representative of Central Texas citizens for over two decades. His work has helped many community infrastructures, expanding wastewater, water, and transportation infrastructure within the area.
Follow him @mheiligenstein