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Thinking Highways Magazine: Keeping Austin Moving Through Innovation and Technology

Q&A with Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein

U60A1127Austin’s reputation as one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., combined with the prevalent opportunities and high quality of life has led to a significant population increase—and a major traffic problem.

To help combat a series of clogged roadways and a city full of frustrated commuters, the Texas legislature created the Mobility Authority in 2002. We are working hard to provide innovative and sustainable transportation options for Travis and Williamson counties. While building roads and adding capacity is part of our mission, the transportation solutions we provide extend far beyond toll roads to new ways of envisioning transportation. After all, Austin is at the center of innovation and technology, and the solutions Austin comes up with should be too.

I recently wrote an article for Thinking Highways Magazine that discussed some of the ways that we are leveraging technology to ease roadway congestion, maximize our existing transportation network, and keep Austin moving.

Q: Your recent article in Thinking Highways Magazine was entitled The New Normal. Talk about what that means.

A: The purpose of the article was to expose some of the technology that we think is going to be critical to the future infrastructure that we build. The article was focused on new and creative means of building infrastructure that has a smart component to it, and by that I mean a technologically-advanced, cutting edge and innovative approach. The reason behind all of this is right now what we do is we build roads, and I think the intelligence factor behind that is secondary; I don’t think we put enough emphasis on utilizing the technology available to us.

It’s time we start thinking about it when we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars on facilities. To create an innovative highway is not that much more expensive. So I think the most important thing is that we do what we can in the age of technology to make our roads smarter, much like what we did with buildings with vertical construction. I think horizontal construction can be just as good.

Q: What are some of the latest trends in highway projects?

The Mopac Improvement Project, currently under construction, will feature Express Lanes with variable-priced tolls to manage congestion.

The Mopac Improvement Project, currently under construction, will feature Express Lanes with variable-priced tolls to manage congestion.

A: I think express lanes, moving forward, are going to be the most critical aspect of new toll road construction. I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of inter-city connections; I wouldn’t anticipate seeing a major highway constructed between Houston and Dallas that is a toll facility. I do think you’re going to see a lot more smart highways, with congestion–priced managed lanes that address the issue of reliability within our urban centers. That means new capacity facilities that are adding to our existing infrastructure, which is going to be a critical element moving forward for managed lanes in urban areas. I would venture to say that 90 percent of the projects we build over the next 10 years will include some aspect of a managed lane.

Read the full article here.

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