How 'Green' Is the Transit Working Group?

Members tasked with revising decision-making process used in evaluating toll road package

Sarah Eckhardt
Sarah Eckhardt (Photo by John Anderson)

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization group meeting every Monday morning at City Hall to guide the future of regional transit – potentially running from San Antonio to Austin, up to Georgetown, and out to Elgin, Leander, and beyond – has begun hammering out the details of its "Decision Tree" for evaluating proposals from transit agencies. CAMPO board Chair Sen. Kirk Watson is facilitating the sessions – while openly advocating for a transparent, public process that requires evaluation of the proposals on their merits rather than members "blindly" following foregone positions.

Watson tasked the group this week with revising the decision tree that had been used in evaluating the toll road package – adopted by the CAMPO board, to considerable environmental, air quality, and climate-protection chagrin. Transit Working Group member and Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt suggested adopting the Envision Central Texas vision as a top-tier evaluation criteria. But Watson counseled strongly against adding it (overstepping a true facilitator role), noting that it could become a political buy-in liability, as neither CAMPO nor any city, county, or other regional entity has officially adopted the ECT vision.

Notable on the all-powerful decision tree: "energy efficiency, the environment, and quality of life" are lumped together as one evaluation item – diminishing the weight and power of each issue for the decision-making process. "I agree that energy efficiency, the environment, and quality of life must be given more weight in the cost-benefit analysis," said via e-mail Eckhardt, who has characterized the toll roads package as bad public policy. "I think separating them would be helpful to this end. I also think we must consider ways to quantify the costs and benefits of any transportation project in terms of energy efficiency, the environment and quality of life.

"Many have been satisfied to leave these elements as subjective, mushy wishes instead of hard goals, thus effectively leaving them out of the evaluation," she added. "We CAN measure per capita vehicle miles traveled. We CAN measure fine particulate and hazardous compounds in the air. We CAN measure commute times and transportation opportunity costs. We CAN model driving and transit use behaviors. And, we CAN put a dollar figure on the costs and benefits we discover in these measurements [just as we do] with all the other costs and benefits we routinely weigh – construction, maintenance, debt service, etc."

One Working Group session observer was excited to see Gerald Daugherty (a transit-doubting Travis Co. commissioner) sending a message by wearing a bright-green shirt – until he realized it was St. Patrick's Day.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, regional transit, Kirk Watson, Sarah Eckhardt, Gerald Daugherty

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