By Mike Heiligenstein
I’ve used the expression “connecting our community” a lot recently, and I usually mean physical connections—modes of transportation that allow a traveler to reliably get from one place to another.
But on June 11, we experienced a new kind of connection when the Capital Metropolitan Planning Organization—CAMPO—decided to allocate $130 million to the MoPac Improvement Project. Over 25 years, the toll revenue generated by the Express Lane project on MoPac will be used to create a $230-million regional infrastructure fund that CAMPO can use to pay for other tolled and non-tolled projects that will most certainly be needed in our rapidly growing community.
On first blush this may not seem like a big deal, but it is. There is a growing impetus in our community to do something about Interstate 35. Improving that roadway could be a multibillion dollar undertaking. Yet, the Congressional Budget Office in Washington reports that since 2008 Congress has spent more on transportation than has been collected in tax revenues. A similar scenario has been playing out in Texas. With a push to balance the federal budget and a resistance to raising taxes, it’s unclear how a big project like I-35 will ever be funded. Meanwhile, we have other important and costly projects on the regional wish list, such as improving MoPac south of Austin, fixing issues at the Y in Oak Hill and modernizing US 183, one of our primary routes to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
The agreement reached with CAMPO will not only provide CAMPO with a new funding source for these and other projects, but it will also save the Mobility Authority more than $300 million that would have been paid out to bond investors. Thanks to CAMPO, that money will also be available to reinvest in the projects mentioned above and many more that need to be undertaken in our community.
We usually think of “sustainability” in terms of environmental initiatives, but this agreement with CAMPO creates financial sustainability. Money that would have otherwise provided a short-term payoff will now be generating new revenue for decades to come, revenue that our growing community will really need.
I want to thank CAMPO for its support of this approach. It is a vote of confidence in the Mobility Authority and the future of our community.