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TribFest Preview: What leaders have to say about the future of transportation

For the past seven years, the Texas Tribune Festival has brought together some of the brightest minds in politics to discuss state and national issues that affect Texans. With 60 panels and 250 speakers, the conversation this year includes topics from energy and the environment, to politics and the media. As we await the festival this weekend, let’s take a look some of the conversations that will take place surrounding transportation.

As part of the Transportation, Energy & the Environment track, two panels will highlight current challenges in transportation, such as long commutes in big cities, to building infrastructure for growing populations. You’ll hear from influential transportation leaders from all around Texas, including State Representative Celia Israel (D-Austin) and James Bass, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Austin traffic can be frustrating during peak travel times, but it might help to know that our region’s motorists aren’t alone in their travel vexations: “The Tyranny of the Commute” is a morning panel that will discuss ways to reduce long commutes in big cities. In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau found the average American spent nine days driving to and from work, and 4 million Americans reported a one-way commute longer than 90 minutes. The same research found that telecommuters increased to five percent, taking 7.6 million Americans off the road during rush hour.

Rep. Israel, who serves on the House Transportation Committee, has been a proponent of telecommuting, introducing a bill in 2015 to allow state agencies to adopt telecommuting policies and flexible work schedules to ease gridlock. A study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that traffic on I-35 decreased by nearly 38 percent when state employees had the day off. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t pass committee, but as telecommuting gains popularity with private companies — Amazon, UnitedHealth Group and Teletech ranked among the top 10 companies for telecommuting — the effects of telecommuting are likely to have a positive impact on commute times.

Also on the panel is John-Michael V. Cortez, who advises Mayor Adler on transportation policy, Dallas City Council Member Philip Kingston, and Beth Van Duyne, who was appointed by President Trump to serve as the Southwest Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Central Texans are very familiar with the challenges our increasing population has brought and continues to create. In 2016, four of the top five fastest growing cities in the U.S. were in Texas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This growing population spills over onto our roads, causing gridlock and longer commute times. The second transportation panel, “Population and Transportation,” looks ahead to the year 2050 to explore the necessary infrastructure for increased populations.

In addition to TxDOT CEO Bass, this population panel will host Hays County Commissioner Will Conley, State Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), State Representative Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria) and Alan Clark, Director of Transportation Planning for the Houston-Galveston Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Increasing conversations around transportation and sharing ideas is a necessary step toward stimulating the ideas that lead to solutions. We appreciate the Texas Tribune’s continued dedication to transportation issues.

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