Monday night the CAMPO Policy Board, on behalf of Williamson, Travis and Hays counties purchased less than 7 miles of highway, 12 lanes wide, stretching through the short grass prairie of eastern Travis County, containing no added benefit in reduced vehicle miles traveled (no rail, no rapid bus, no high occupancy vehicle lanes, no congestion pricing). According to a study conducted for CAMPO in 2006, this project will increase the average speed by 3 miles per hour for a commuter traveling from Elgin to Austin City Hall resulting in a decrease of up to ten minutes in average commute time. The price tag for this nominal increase in convenience for our predominantly single occupant commuter population is $630 million.
In transit terms, $630 million would pay for:
- A downtown rail system from the Mueller Redevelopment, through UT, down Congress Avenue, to the Long Center, out Riverside, and on to the Airport;
- A completed Leander Rail Line AND a completed Elgin Rail Line into Austin; or
- Hike and bike trails, grade separated bike lanes and ADA sidewalks throughout the three-county CAMPO region.
In terms of other civic expenditures, $630 million would pay for:
- Skads of affordable housing;
- Tons of workforce development;
- Boatloads of healthcare;
- A gusher of education;
- Ginormous amounts of drug and alcohol rehabilitation and jail diversion; or
- The entire annual budget of Travis County government.
Our priorities as a community are not reflected in the CAMPO vote of Monday December 1 either in terms of transit or in the broader context of civic expenditures.
We can, must and will do better.