RPS is a global professional services firm that offers traffic engineering, transportation planning, roadway design, and property development services throughout Texas from offices in the Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio metro areas. This is the first article in a series that highlights transportation and mobility issues in Texas and how RPS is helping clients succeed in this challenging and fast-changing landscape, fulfilling our promise – “making complex easy.”
In the United States, the transportation industry is facing several challenges that will likely shape the way we plan, fund, and build multimodal infrastructure for years to come, including
Beyond these national trends, agencies in Texas are struggling with their own set of issues tied to the state’s unprecedented population growth. Texas added 4.2 million people between 2010 and 2020, more than any other state and 1.2 million more than the state with the next highest gains. This growth has put a strain on local and regional transportation systems, particularly within the state’s largest cities, and has agencies scrambling to plan adequate facilities that get built concurrently with new development; rethink how infrastructure is coordinated and funded, and ensure that our communities become more resilient to unexpected natural and societal events.
How can agencies and the private sector meet these challenges and work together to build a better, smarter transportation system? Over the next several months, RPS will be releasing a series of articles on various emerging mobility topics that we believe will be key in helping cities and regions throughout Texas tackle the challenges of both today and tomorrow. Four drivers of change will be explored – partnerships, funding, policy, and technology. While much is often written about the destiny of smart mobility technology (e.g. autonomous vehicles, drone delivery, adaptive traffic systems) as the cure-all for modern transportation problems, other more traditional drivers – partnerships, finance, and policy – are often ignored. In our series, we will bring each driver into the spotlight, illustrating its role in shaping mobility in Texas through the lens of pertinent issues and topics.
Progress happens when public/private stakeholder meet around the same table (be it physical or virtual). Often, developers and cities/counties may view each other as adversary. However, it is in the interest of both parties for any new development to tie into a successful transportation system. The same is true across local and regional agencies. For example, close project coordination with the local metropolitan planning organization (MPO) can put a city in a stronger position to secure a federal funding partnership. In these discussions, RPS plays the role of facilitator and advisor, helping both parties find common ground and navigate the process.
Texas knows all too well how statewide transportation funding, tied primarily to the gasoline tax, tends to ebb and flow with the bust and boom of the oil industry. Recently, other trends have also begun to impact tax revenues, such as the dip in personal travel due to Covid-19 and the gradual introduction of hybrid- and all-electric vehicles into widespread use. In response to these trends and other funding shortfalls, agencies have begun exploring other methods of infrastructure funding – tax increment reinvestment zones, public private partnerships, and impact fees. In the absence of these options, comprehensive, upfront transportation planning is the best course of action for an agency, optimizing scarce financial resources and ensuring projects are competitive for State and Federal monies.
Statewide and local policies play a pivotal role in influencing how the transportation system is planned, funded, and ultimately constructed. When the Texas Legislature convenes every two years, new bills related to mobility are always on the docket. In recent years, passed legislation has targeted the local review process (HB 3167), travel data privacy (SB 858), and potential taxing/funding methods (HB 1698, HB 2223). For example, HB 3167, also known as the “Shot Clock Bill,” sets hard timelines for the review of development applications by local governments, including transportation impacts and mitigation plans. Since the passage of the Shot Clock Bill, RPS has helped agencies meet these requirements for review, acting as an extension and complement to local staff.
While rapid change is possible through technological innovation, especially in an increasingly connected world, it more often takes the right partnership, funding, and political conditions for transportation technology to catch on. In 2019, the Texas Department of Transportation launched a Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) Task Force, providing a forum for both public and private stakeholders interested in advancing smart vehicle technologies throughout Texas. As of June 2021, over 20 CAV pilot and deployment programs are active throughout the State. Additionally, the emergence of connected technology has changed the nature of data collection and analysis in the transportation planning process. RPS has helped agencies harness emerging “big data” sources to make better-informed decisions about local priorities and ultimately spend less money on data collection.
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