Austin – An analysis released today on the light rail proposal of Capital Metropolitan Transit of Austin indicates that Austin’s traffic congestion problems of the future could be eliminated with bus alternatives to light rail. The report entitled Options Ignored, Opportunities Lost: An Analysis of Affordable Transportation Options for Austin points out that Capital Metro seems to have dismissed viable bus alternatives in its planning process.
With demand for automobile travel expected to increase as the Austin population continues to increase, it is likely that traffic volumes will exceed road and transit capacity by 64 percent by 2025.
If Capital Metro funding dedicated to light rail were instead dedicated to building 52 miles of Busway/High Occupancy Toll lanes (rather than 52 miles of light rail), sufficient funds would remain with which to build general purpose freeway lanes when combined with toll revenues. Such a redirection in funding would reduce traffic congestion in 2025 by 39.4 percent compared to only 0.6 percent if spent on light rail. Under this scenario, Austin traffic would be at 99 percent of road capacity rather than at 64 percent above capacity as is projected. The busway/HOT option would also dramatically reduce peak hour travel delays throughout the Austin area 58 percent compared to building light rail, approximately one hour per capita per week.
“It is unfortunate that Cap Metro’s planning process has been so biased toward light rail” said Jeff Judson, President and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He went on to say, “Real solutions exist to Austin’s future traffic problems. Even by CAMPO’s and Capital Metro’s own data, light rail is not a real solution to congestion.”
Judson called on Austin authorities to undertake an independent (non-Capital Metro), comprehensive mobility and access study of all options for improving traffic congestion in the Austin area. This would include roadway improvements, roadway transit improvements (bus), traffic management strategies, and light rail.
- Further findings of the report include:
- Based upon Capital Metro ridership estimates of new riders attracted to transit, the estimated cost per automobile driver attracted to light rail would be $18.90 per one way trip. This is equal to more than $8,600 annually, enough to lease in perpetuity a new Lexus 400LS sedan for each auto driver attracted. Light rail’s impact upon traffic congestion would be slight; less than one percent of the traffic on IH-35 and MoPac would be removed by light rail.
- Densifying and centralizing, so-called “smart growth,” or directed growth strategies will, if successful, worsen traffic congestion and air pollution.
- Because they are open to car pools and single occupant automobiles paying a toll, Busway-High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes reduce traffic congestion on adjacent freeway lanes.
- High speed busways, constructed in such a manner to accept car pools, and single occupant cars paying a toll, would be 1/20th the cost of light rail per passenger mile (Busway-HOT lanes) and would carry 8.8 times the volume of light rail. High speed bus service would provide a higher level of transit service to riders, operating significantly faster.
- From an economic development perspective, construction of rubber tire transit systems retain a far higher percentage of local tax dollars in the local community. Since the vast majority of equipment, materials and engineering services associated with light rail are produced outside the state of Texas, Austin taxpayers will be exporting their local taxes to other states and to foreign countries. Busways are designed and constructed primarily with local labor and materials.
- Traffic signal synchronization for buses could increase travel speeds at a comparatively low cost.
- Even general purpose freeway lanes would be less expensive than light rail, at one-eighth the cost per person mile.
- Over the 1982-1997 period, roadway capacity has not kept up with population growth. While population was rising 106 percent, lane miles of roadway increased by only 66 percent.
- Over the next 25 years, highway traffic demand is projected by CAMPO to more than double in the Austin area. At the same time, transit’s share of trips is projected to stay virtually the same. Roadways would represent the overwhelming portion – 98 percent – of new demand. It thus seems inexplicable that local transportation officials would commit such a large proportion to expensive transit strategies that by their own projections would accomplish so little.
- Factors with respect to Austin’s roadway system tend to exacerbate traffic congestion. For example:
Among the 60 largest urbanized areas, only Austin does not have an east-west freeway operating completely through the metropolitan area.
Austin has only one north-south freeway that operates through the entire metropolitan area (IH-35).
Alone among major Texas metropolitan areas, Austin does not have a belt or loop route (such as Interstate 610 in Houston or Interstate 410 and State Route 1604 in San Antonio).
It can be argued that Austin does not even have a freeway network, since complete interchanges do not exist between freeways, such as at IH-35 and US-183.
Austin’s street arterial system is below standard, with few through major north-south arterials and virtually no through major east-west arterials.
- The lowest possible cost for the light rail line, $46 million per mile, is 15 percent above the worst case freeway lane cost of $40 million per mile.