Most of the time, discussions on transit issues in the Austin area tend to surround the city itself. One discussion however, was focused on the region’s suburban communities’ needs instead. The Williamson County Growth Summit, involved people like the founder of RideScout LLC, Joseph Kopser, Mike Heiligenstein, the Executive Director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, and ArgoDesign’s Jared Ficklin.
Together, these people discussed how the face of transportation is being changed by technology. Jared Ficklin, who is a product designer focused on transportation, proposed a new aerial gondola system to be used and implemented in Central Austin.
While new technologies could transform the infrastructure of transportation in the area, as Heiligenstein points out, the region could still use the investment of growing their capacity of the transportation area, especially by building more and keener roads. He believes the only way to truly meet a growing population’s demands is to create more roads for transportation.
Mayor of Round Rock, Alan McGraw, believes that policymakers need to adjust to technology and building and land codes need to stay flexible to accommodate such technological advances. As Ficklin points out, autonomous vehicles are no longer an idea for the future. Parking garages for those vehicles, for instance, could only need to be an inch taller than the vehicle. Building codes for such things would need to change and adapt to those needs.
Regardless of the notion of autonomous vehicles, Heiligenstein knows that the Austin area needs to improve its capacity for roads and public transportation first. Their focus needs to be on roads because the area’s growth is expected to overshadow the improvements done for mass transit.
A representative from Uber stated that people need other options for transportation, aside from personal and public. Ridesharing companies like Uber can do the job nicely. Those companies can work to create subsidies to help both riders and transit agencies.
As an independent government agency created in 2002, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has the goal of improving the transportation system in two counties: Williamson and Travis. Their main objective is to use innovative solutions to help reduce congestion and create different choices in the transportation industry that will enhance the quality of life for the area and improve the area’s economic vitality.
Leading the agency is Mike Heiligenstein, as its Executive Director. He has over two decades of experience as an elected official in Williamson County. He has led the efforts in the county to expand water, transportation, and wastewater infrastructure. Heiligenstein has a Master’s Degree from the University of Texas.