The 19th annual Austin Business Journal’s annual Williamson County Growth Summit hosted a panel discussion to talk about the growing transportation challenges in the suburbs around Austin. The panel consisted of several key players of transportation including the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein, ArgoDesign’s Jared Ficklin, RideScout LLC’s founder Joseph Kopser, and Uber Technologies Texas External Affairs Director, Leandre Johns.
One of the key topics up for discussion was the impact of technology on the changing transportation environment in Austin and around the world. Driverless vehicles and ridesharing apps were discussed during the night. While this technology could challenge the current infrastructure, Heiligenstein stated that the Austin area needed to focus on growing the transportation capacity. In recent years, the population has been expanding rapidly in the suburbs, Williamson County included. Heiligenstein continued to remark that new roads needed to more efficient and technically advanced.
Round Rock Mayor Alan McGraw served as the moderator for the night and asked about what preparations policymakers needed to make regarding future transportation needs. Ficklin focused on building and land-use codes, stating that they needed to be adapted to be more flexible. Ficklin provided an example regarding self-driving cars. The parking garages of the future could have shorter levels since there won’t be a driver to disembark in the building, and will also need charging stations and an area to service vehicles. Ficklin stated that current building codes aren’t in place to allow this type of structure.
Heiligenstein instead stated that resources should be focused on improving and increasing the capacity of roads and buses. The rate of growth in Austin would nullify most of the gains from mass transit use. Heiligenstein predicted that U.S. Highway 183 and State Highway 290 would eventually need to expand to 12 lanes of traffic to meet the growing needs of residents.
Leandre Johns from Uber focused emphasis on providing services to commuters who need ways of getting to and from the public transit. Johns stated that ridesharing companies could provide that service and make public transit more convenient for its riders. Companies like Uber could work with the public transit agencies to create subsidies.
The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority was created in 2002 as an independent government agency. Its mission is to improve the transportation system in Williamson and Travis counties. The Mobility Authority is headed by Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein. Mike has been working with the Mobility Authority since its start in 2002 and has headed several projects in Williamson County. Prior to heading the Mobility Authority, Mike had served Williamson County for twenty-three years as a public official.