The New Guy at CAMPO
Meet Joe Cantalupo. As the brand-new executive director of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the affable and accomplished Cantalupo could be just the right staff leader at the right time for regional transportation and mobility planning. His guidance of CAMPO certainly will affect all of us – everyone who drives, commutes, needs public transit, bikes, or walks to get around our increasingly congested region.
Under energetic Chair Kirk Watson, CAMPO has been undergoing a positive transformation. Watson likes to say he's putting the "P" back in CAMPO – the planning, which is what Congress created MPOs to do. Former Executive Director Michael Aulick resigned in January, after 15 years on the job. Following a national search – for which transit and multimodal experience was a key hiring criterion – the CAMPO board selected Cantalupo, who started April 28.
"I'm not just a highway planner," notes Cantalupo. "My focus is on an integrated system. Are highways always going to be important? Sure! But it's also important to think about the future. As we continue to grow, we're going to need to give some attention to other components; it's all about finding the right balance."
Job No. 1, said the new executive director: "We need to let people know what we do and how we do it." (See A CAMPO Primer.)
Though he's been in Austin for just a year (as a senior planning manager with consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff), Cantalupo brings to Central Texas 20 years of transportation-planning experience in New York and Delaware. (No, he's not the infamous New York mob informer who shares his name.) For Delaware's Department of Transportation, he spent his last eight years as an assistant director responsible for statewide and community-based regional and long-range transportation planning. He led a 30-person section charged with planning not just for roads but also for land use, bicycles, pedestrians, and air-quality compliance. (Delaware has a separate statewide transit organization – imagine! – with which Cantalupo coordinated.) He led development of a statewide Long Range Transportation Plan, inclusive of transit and all other modes, that was tied to a statewide growth and development policy.
"Joe brings a lot of good, practical experience, including long-term planning experience," noted Watson. "He's smart, and he's a good communicator. I think he'll be a great asset as the CAMPO board makes decisions about mobility, clean air, land use, and how we want to look as a region. We've started trying to make these decisions differently in the past year, and Joe will be a big help."
Cantalupo's primary responsibility is the smooth operation of the CAMPO 16-member staff, which takes direction from the Transportation Policy Board and turns its policies into action. But he notes that policy initiatives are a two-way street; he'll also be recommending to the board "ideas on how to move the whole thing forward." He and other staff will "research and report on whether to implement certain policies or programs." He shares the goal to "make CAMPO more of a planning organization," in coordinating the present and future growth of all transportation modes for the region. On the East Coast, he developed a number of bike and pedestrian plans. He's also keenly interested in CAMPO's environmental justice and clean air initiatives.
"I understand how to build a transportation system for a vibrant, growing region," he asserted. "You can't continue to grow, prosper economically, and be a neat place where people want to live, without a multimodal system. My role is to help the region think about transportation in just that way – as a system, to provide integrated mobility. Is one mode going to save us? No!"
Cantalupo also hopes to help CAMPO better explain to people how their transportation choices link to air quality: "With the new federal ozone standards, the air quality issue isn't going away." On the East Coast, he was responsible for transportation conformity – ensuring that transportation plans and programs conformed to national standards to improve air quality. He expects to work closely with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Clean Air Force. As for the Austin Climate Protection Plan – well, he hasn't read it yet, but give him time.
He noted that to make an impact: "Local governments have to develop land-use plans that support our transportation plan – both of those things have to work together. By linking transportation and land use, that's where you can start to gain some ground." He's also a believer that small personal choices – walking to work (as his wife does), carpooling one day each week, biking to pick up a gallon of milk – can make a difference. To make progress on mobility, air quality, and climate protection: "It's got to be all of us. We can't be successful unless we see this as something we're all in together."
Cantalupo sounded unfazed by Central Texans' yen for highly transparent and participatory governance. While Austinites may consider CAMPO's charge (and attendant politics) challenging, he's a veteran of complex planning efforts that included input from a dizzying number of entities, MPOs, communities, and stakeholders from all over the state. "CAMPO's job – and mine – is to make sure that we involve everyone and keep talking in an ongoing conversation, with a lot of back and forth," he noted. He likes the broad public engagement with transportation issues that he's seen here so far: "It keeps people like me, dedicated to public service, on their toes."
Welcome to Central Texas, Joe – enjoy the honeymoon.