Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Transportation fixes moving forward ... at least for now

Proposed Y flyover at Oak Hill
Today the group Ridesharing Works announced they submitted around 65,000 signatures to the Austin City Clerk to put on the ballot a measure to preserve status-quo regulations to keep services such as Uber and Lyft from leaving town.

Meanwhile, Mayor Steve Adler has recently announced that 2016 will be the "Year of Mobility," and is pushing for a new set of highway spending proposals for Austinites to vote on.

It would seem things are going well for those calling for transportation reform in the city -- whether you need to hail a ride through downtown or you just want to get home from your daily commute while the sun is still shining. Work on "the Y" in Oak Hill is progressing, and a toll lane on MoPac Expressway is slowly nearing completion despite several rain delays and financial hiccups. There's even a plan in its early phases to add lanes to U.S. 183 northbound, and the embattled SH 45 connector is nearing its final phases.

Mayor Adler is attempting to compromise with the Uber/Lyft crowd by suggesting incentives (see article) -- which is either 1) a sign that transportation reform advocates finally have the upper hand, or 2) the concessions are designed to thwart the people's petition drive and the city establishment sees them as a force to be reckoned with.

Assuming an unpopular mass transit boondoggle isn't part of the package this year, Austinites would likely vote positively on spending tax dollars to improve major thoroughfares and re-engineer notorious (and deadly) traffic snarls. Austin set a record of over 100 traffic fatalities in 2015, and that has motorists nervous enough to do something.

However, according to veteran Austin American-Statesman transportation reporter Ben Wear, the checks aren't cashed yet.
"After all, the city held one in 2006 asking for $103.1 million, and it passed. ... 
"in 2010 the city sought $90 million of borrowing for transportation (also a yes). 
"In 2012, the city requested authority for another $143.3 million (yes, yet again). 
"In 2014, less than 15 months ago, the city asked for a heady billion dollars for light rail and highway spending, but that one was emphatically rejected by voters." 
Read more at MyStatesman.com 
Wear warned that time is of the essence in getting these proposals publicly vetted and advertised before the November election. It's also not as simple as fixing I-35, as Adler told Wear that projects could also focus on Loop 360, Airport Boulevard, sidewalks, bike facilities, etc. A utopian urban-planning vision thrown in to the mix of otherwise pragmatic mobility solutions could throw hopes of a smoother commute into jeopardy.

But at this very moment, transportation reformers can bask in the light of some very good news.

CORRECTION (1/20/16): There are currently many regulations on transportation network companies on the books in the city of Austin. The article was amended to reflect that, as well as the possibility that Mayor Adler's concessions may be designed to derail the people's ridesharing petition.

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