Can We Afford To Sustain The Austin Boom? The Numbers Say No

By Bill Oakey – May 12, 2015

I will never forget the time that I was standing on the shore, gazing out across the beautiful, peaceful sea. Then it started coming, slowly at first, until the sound of its engines overwhelmed me. It was a huge airplane, slicing through the previously silent sky, with an ominous roar. Suddenly the plane dipped and I saw the flames. It was all too real! Was I actually about to witness a crash? Fortunately, I did not fall out of bed. The nightmare just jolted me awake.

On May 11th, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) approved their 2040 Transportation Plan. To the tune of $35.1 billion. That divides out to $1.4 billion every year for 25 years in a row. The Austin area shares the biggest chunk of that burden. And somehow we have to pay for it all.

Our CTRMA toll road authority got a bond rating upgrade last fall…all the way up to BBB and BBB-. Their ambitious plans for both North MoPac and South MoPac call for adding express lanes with high-cost variable tolls that favor the wealthy. But expensive transportation plans are just the beginning.

The shelves in several local offices are bulging with lots of other plans. Travis County’s Downtown Campus Plan and the City’s Downtown Austin plan are already underway. In fact the “Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative” kicks off on May 20th. You are invited to come and witness the plan to transform Congress into the Champs Élysées of Texas.

Parts of some of these plans are essential, for repairs to aging infrastructure. But just close your eyrs and try to imagine a giant list of plans for every “corridor” of the city. We have an Urban Forestry Plan, a new Aquatics Plan, and an untold number of others – some probably still being “planned.” We have City plans, County plans, Central Health, ACC, AISD, utilty expansions, etc. A new hospital to replace Brackenridge, a new Erwin Center.

One of my affordability goals is to ask for a master list of plans that would include an itemization of costs, with the grand total and the yearly cost to taxpayers. There is little doubt that those figures will be completely unsustainable. That means our public officials will need to set some priorities. The stampede toward Austin from all four corners of the Earth may not end well.

it makes me think about the march of the brooms.

Does anybody remember the story of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?” Maybe there is a great sorcerer out there with enough power to make Austin’s boom last forever. Maybe he can even help us defy gravity. But what if the Great Sorcerer steps away. And we are left with his bumbling apprentice to control all of those brooms – the cars and the plans?  They just keep multiplying, they just keep coming.

You can watch “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” on YouTube.

And I have one other musical option. I will warn you – this is a sad story. It’s about bumping head-on into a sobering reality, with a lead character who is a little bit less than sober. It’s an old country song by Porter Wagoner, “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.”


4 thoughts on “Can We Afford To Sustain The Austin Boom? The Numbers Say No

  1. Connie

    As always you are on target.
    I question if the sorcerer will leave when we haven’t addiquit water in the future.

  2. Barry Klein

    As traffic grows road users adjust, keeping average commute times under half an hour. This is revealed by census bureau reports which are ignored by the road builder’s lobby.
    Barry Klein

  3. Vince May

    On Saturday the citizens of Elgin voted to prohibit building of the Green Line which would have connected to Austin. There are only 13 people in Elgin riding the 990 Express bus per day and the best estimate is that only ~50 people per day would ride a train. That wasn’t worth the millions of tax dollars the other residents would have to pay to subsidize the train. The city of Austin offered to pay the city of Elgin’s share but that was rejected. So the $35 billion 2040 Plan just got $586 million cheaper. Plus another $250 million in savings on the Green Line maintenance and operations costs. Now we have to work on the $4.2 billion dollar I-35 toll lanes. Cut a few more train lines and we have a $25 billion plan. I think we could even go below that WHILE ALSO REDUCING CONGESTION.


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