On Thursday, December 15, 2016, a panel of experts in transportation met at the Williamson County Growth Summit. This was the 19th year of the Austin Business Journal’s event. The participants included Joseph Kopser (RideScout LLC founder), Leandre Johns (Uber’s Texas External Affairs Director), Jared Ficklin (ArgonDesign product designer), and Mike Heiligenstein (Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director).
The focus of this summit was on the growth of suburban Austin communities and the need for transportation improvements.
Heiligenstein, who’s been part of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority since inception, oversaw his agency’s first project of 183A in Williamson County, where he served as public official for 23 prior to taking charge of the Mobility Authority. The Mobile Authority was created in 2002 as an independent government agency to serve the transportation system in the counties of Williamson and Travis. In addition to his work in this agency, Heiligenstein is President of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, is a member on the advisory board of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and is active on many other transportation-related committees.
During the panel discussion, Heiligenstein stressed the importance of increasing the efficiency of new and existing roads in the suburban Williamson County, especially with the influx of people coming into the area. While he believes driverless technology in the future can be great, he’s not too optimistic about it solving all the traffic issues. The main focus should be on road, bus, and traffic efficiency now, as the population is growing in the suburbs. Even with over 15 years of improvements to Williamson’s traffic infrastructure, a lot can still be improved to accommodate its growing number of citizens.
Ficklin, while more favorable of autonomous vehicles, agreed that it’s still necessary to improve the road infrastructure now, so the autonomous driving technology can also benefit from it in the future.
Johns of Uber added that commuters in the Austin region need that solution for getting on and off public transportation, and that’s where companies like his come into play. This should improve the overall efficiency of the commute for people who don’t solely depend on cars for their transportation needs. Johns said there’s the need to give the people options to make their daily commutes easier than imagined.
The discussion of Austin traffic held an emphasis for the importance of practical solutions for current times to pave the way for future technologies.
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