Transportation is a hot topic in Austin, Texas, one of the country’s highest-growth cities. Although public transport and roads are a major civic issue in the budding metropolis, most of the attention is on the city proper and not on the surrounding communities that make up the Greater Austin area, known as the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area. The five counties of Austin-Round Rock make up the 35th largest metro area in the United States with a population of around 2 million. Recently, a group of transportation experts came together to discuss future challenges facing Greater Austin and Central Texas as the region continues to grow.
The Williamson County Growth Summit was held at the Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel & Conference Center. Among those in attendance were Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CRTMA) Director Mike Heiligenstein, as well as representatives from Uber and competitor RideScout. Transportation planner Jared Ficklin and Texas External Affairs Director Leandre Johns also participated on the panel.
CRTMA director Heiligenstein believes that Uber promises to transform transportation in the long-term, he added that in the short-term, the only way that Austin suburbs can cope is to put more resources into road construction, especially smart roads. In addition, Round Rock Mayor Alan McGraw pointed out that cities must keep an open mind about building codes. According to McGraw, the driverless vehicles of the future will require a much different infrastructure than what currently exists, and this will not fit neatly into the current code structure.
Heiligenstein argued that local leaders and planners must focus their energies on new roads instead of driverless vehicles and public transportation. According to the Director Heiligenstein, while it is possible to make progress on greater public transit use, any improvements in congestion will be canceled out by urban growth in the city’s suburbs.
Mike Heiligenstein is head of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which was established in 2002. Heiligenstein was appointed founding director by the CTRTMA board in 2003. Prior to serving as director, he served Williamson County, Texas, for 23 years as an elected official on a number of boards and councils. Heiligenstein also served as president of the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association in 2014. He attended the University of Texas and went on to earn an MBA and a master’s in Government.