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What do Austin transportation efforts look like in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic?

"From a business economic perspective, we can't take a break right now from transportation planning."

AUSTIN, Texas — Getting Austinites around town faster and easier has been the goal of city, state and mobility leaders, especially as the Capital City continues to grow.

But what do transportation efforts look like in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic?

KVUE held a virtual discussion with Austin Business Journal (ABJ) editor Colin Pope, Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke and Texas Department of Transportation Austin district engineer Tucker Ferguson. 

"This is a huge year for transportation," said Pope.

Like KVUE and our Boomtown 2040 initiative, ABJ is taking a closer look at growth in Austin and how COVID-19 may affect transportation efforts.

In 2040, the Capital City's population is expected to double to roughly 4.5 million people.

Pope discovered, despite the pandemic, his readers insist mobility projects must continue.

"From a business economic perspective, we can't take a break right now from transportation planning, as is the thought of many business leaders," Pope said.

Clarke agreed, especially as more people continue to move to Central Texas.

"Tesla announced a deal less than a week ago with 5,000 jobs, which they say could scale up to maybe 10,000. The Apple second headquarters is under construction, which they say over 15 years I think is another 15,000 jobs. Central Austin is booming," Clarke said.

When Pope said "this is a huge year for transportation," Project Connect is why.

On Monday, the Austin City Council and CapMetro's Board of Directors adopted a 8.75 cent tax rate for the ballot in November. It's suppose to fund most of the project.

"Yesterday's decision was how many of those projects inside the whole program we want to advance ideally in this first vote for residents in Austin," said Clarke.

Ferguson, the district engineer for Austin with TxDOT, said COVID-19 actually had a positive effect on its projects a few months back. They were able to extend lane closures, but not anymore as traffic picks back up.

As far as projects go, the Public Transportation Advisory Committee presented the agency's 10-year plan on Tuesday.

"So that's a look ahead where we program our projects with projected funding revenue expectations for the next 10 years," said Ferguson.

A big chunk of that plan includes an expansion for Interstate Highway 35, also called the Capital Express Project. It's broken into three parts. The biggest is the one that covers Downtown Austin.

"It's a $4.9 billion project, and that is to add to managed lanes in each direction as well. And again, that's from 290, then white on the southern side to take us to 90 on the northern side," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said with only $3.4 billion of that project funded, they're still looking for the rest, because stalling on a transportation project is just not a good option when Austin is already busting at the seams.

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