Many discussions regarding transit in the Austin area focus on the city. However, at the recent Williamson County Growth Summit, the opportunity was taken to help address transportation challenges of the city’s suburban areas.
The panel at this summit included the likes of RideScout LLC Founder Joseph Kopser, ArgoDesign’s Jared Ficklin, Uber Technologies’ Leandre Johns, and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s (CTRMA) Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein. The panelists’ discussion focused mainly on how technology is changed the transportation industry in not only the Austin area, but around the world.
Executive Director of the CTRMA Mike Heiligenstein noted that while technologies could certainly transform transportation’s infrastructure, he believes the Austin area still needs to address the immediate issue of transportation by investing in capacity by building more roads. He believes that the only way to address the mobility demands of the ever-growing Austin area population is to address transportation issues where the growth is happening most, Austin suburbs.
Mayor of Round Rock Alan McGraw asked the panel what they thought the county needed to do to prepare for the transportation needs of the future. In response, ArgoDesign’s Ficklin stated that policymakers must keep in mind that building and land codes must remain flexible to meet the needs of the future. For an example, he stated that the autonomous vehicles of the future will need parking garages that only need to be five feet tall per level, with charging stations on each level. Those details certainly don’t fit into any current building code, so future flexibility is necessary.
While Heiligenstein knows they cannot ignore the possibilities of the future, he claims they must first address the issues that are affecting transportation now. Williamson County must improve their capacity for roads and buses, especially since Austin’s rate of growth will essentially negate efforts for improvement because of the naturally increased use of mass transit.
Mike Heiligenstein has had a successful career developing the infrastructure of Central Texas as the CTRMA’s Executive Director. The CTRMA is a government agency that was founded in 2002 to help create a regional transportation network for Central Texas.
He has been a representative of Central Texas’ fastest growing area by being an elected official in Williamson County for over twenty years. Heiligenstein has helped lead efforts to expand wastewater, transportation, and water infrastructure. He has chaired the Clean Air Force of Texas and served on the regional MPO.