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How CAMPO is Addressing Transportation Needs for a Post-COVID Environment

11.10.2020

DURATION 4 minute read

 The COVID-19 pandemic pushed many people to work from home. Though some companies and organizations are starting to transition back into the office, many have switched to a hybrid or 100% remote work environment – helping reduce the volume of commuters and alleviate traffic in some of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (CAMPO) most congested areas.

CAMPO is responsible for addressing the long-term transportation needs of some of the fastest-growing counties in Texas, including Williamson, Travis, Bastrop, Caldwell and Hays Counties. Though COVID has brought temporary traffic relief to some of these areas, the planning organization is still preparing for a future of growth.

We recently visited with the CAMPO Chair and Williamson County Precinct 2 Commissioner, Cynthia Long – who is an expert in the region’s mobility trends and needs – to discuss whether the area’s commuting behaviors will continue post-COVID and how the organization is planning and developing infrastructure to address the region’s long-term transportation needs.

 

Will Commuting Behaviors Stick Post-COVID?

In April 2020, at the peak of when people were working from home, traffic in the Austin area was down almost 50%. Though traffic has started picking back up, the numbers of commuters have not returned to its pre-COVID volume – raising the question of whether these changes in commuting behaviors will stick post-COVID.

If they do, Cynthia believes it will bring congestion relief to high volume areas. But the CAMPO region is still growing, which will continue to amplify pressure on the regional mobility network.

“Traffic adjustments during COVID-19 are working great for now,” Cynthia said. “But as new businesses and residents settle in the region, we will continue to see an increased demand on our transportation system.”

 

Why This Matters for Developers

As mentioned previously, CAMPO is responsible for the mobility needs of some of the state’s fastest-growing areas, including Austin and its surrounding suburban communities.  Many of CAMPO’s counties are projected to experience a growth rate greater than the state average by 2050, per the Texas Demographic Center.

To address this continued growth, CAMPO has developed the platinum planning program.  This comprehensive multimodal planning process allows CAMPO to address the unique needs of the MPO’s six-county region.  This planning process is designed to understand existing and developing aspects of the region’s transportation, land use and other planning areas so that the regional plan balances priorities and delivers high impact multimodal projects.  Quite simply, CAMPO’s long-range planning is design to allow for sustainable growth that balances unique elements of this area.

 

Preparing for Long-Term Growth

The coronavirus pandemic has brought temporary relief, but Cynthia knows the CAMPO region is still expected to experience rapid growth in the long-run, which will require expansion.

Improving I-35 has been a long-term goal of CAMPO. Earlier this year, that goal became a reality when the Texas Transportation Commission dedicated over $4 billion towards improving the highly traversed interstate, which Cynthia says is one of the largest sums of money set aside by the transportation commission for a single project at one time.

Though the transportation commission provided funding to revamp I-35, it wanted CAMPO to first develop a list of $633 million worth of projects to defer.

“I have to hand it to our smaller counties and municipalities,” Cynthia said. “They kept their eye on the long-term goal and made tough decisions for the good of the region so we could start this major overhaul of I-35.”

Construction to revamp the 8-mile stretch could start as early as 2025 and will take about 4 years to complete.

You can check out Episode 8 of our podcast, Texas By Design, for more insight into how COVID-19 has impacted mobility trends in the CAMPO region and how the organization is addressing the area’s diverse transportation needs. You can watch the episode on YouTube or listen on all major podcast platforms.

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