CAMPO inflates population numbers to encourage more road-building
By Roger Baker * May 2002

CAMPO Road Planning Based on Bogus Growth Trends, According to State Expert
 
CAMPO (and its previous incarnation as ATS) has had a consistent habit, extending
back since at least the mid-1980's, of inflating the population and employment estimates
that it uses for planning its future roads. Thus we find it extrapolating the highest population trends from the State Data Center, based on the high tech-based Austin area growth boom in the 1990's. (In Williamson County the trends were largely based on Dell Computer-related growth, which now does not expect to expand there due to high central Texas costs compared to foreign subsidiaries).
 
Why inflate the numbers? Federal law says that local MPO's, like CAMPO, that get federal money must have a long range (20 or 25 year) plan. From this long range plan it can then choose the roads that it wants to build quickly, via its three-year transportation improvement program, or TIP.
 
The more roads CAMPO has in its long-range plan and the further into the future they are planned, then more roads that can be claimed to be needed, and the wider they will appear to need to be.  This federally sanctioned list of huge wide roads are then eligible to be chosen to be built quickly, based on political pressure from land speculation and development interests (like Pete Winstead and the Real Estate Council). The long-range CAMPO plan has lots of new  transit and light rail in addition to all its highways, but the rail never gets built while roads to serve decades of future suburban sprawl growth seem to jump ahead in priority.  The billions of dollars in Williamson county toll roads such as SH 130 being good examples. In fact, there is also a pattern of raiding transit Cap Metro's funds to divert its money from transit to roads, which cripples the funds needed for the transit assumed in the CAMPO plan.
 
Exhibit A, below, explains that the the very high population and employment trend estimates that  CAMPO is using to project a tripling of the population in Williamson County DO NOT reflect current reality, according to a state data center expert (the State Data Center is where CAMPO gets its population and employment numbers, and from which it usually chooses the highest of three sets of numbers; high, medium, and low).
 
The March 2002 CAMPO newsletter projects a 4.8% compounded Williamson County growth rate between 2000 and 2025, when CAMPO projects the county population to have grown from 250,000 to over 800,000:   http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/campo/newsletters.htm
 
Exhibit B, below candidly reveals the cheerleading behind local roadway planning according to Texas Turnpike Authority Director Pete Winstead, (who was simultaneously also director of the Real Estate Council of Austin, a prominent real estate lobby group). Source is the official TxDOT transcript of Jan. 13, 2000 Texas Turnpike Authority meeting, pp 36-39.

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[Exhibit A] http://www.austin360.com/auto_docs/epaper/editions/monday/metro_state_11.html
 
Williamson ranks No. 5 for growth
 
By Kate Alexander, AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF, Monday, April 29, 2002
 
Williamson County remained among the nation's 10 fastest-growing counties last year, according to Census Bureau estimates released today, but a state population expert maintains the figures do not reflect recent economic changes.
 
"Any economic downturn we've experienced in the last couple of years would not appear in these estimates . . . simply because of the methodology," said Steve Murdock, a demographer with the State Data Center at Texas A&M University.
 
The estimates, based on extrapolations of birth and death rates and migration figures, tend to lag behind reality by more than a year, Murdock said. For Williamson County, ranked at No. 5, that year was one of layoffs and an overall chilling of its explosive growth, in contrast to recent years when it was a mainstay in the top 10 list of fastest-growing counties.
 
According to the estimates, Williamson County increased more than 11 percent between April 1, 2000, the date of the last decennial count, and July 1, 2001. Travis County grew 2.6 percent during the same time period.
 
 
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TxDOT transcript of Jan. 13, 2000 Texas Turnpike Authority meeting, pp 36-39.
 
Pete Winstead: "...It might be of interest to you to know I was attending an economic forecast breakfast this morning put on by Angelos Angelus company, and its no surprise the year 2000, 2001 in central Texas, the Austin area, is going to be 5.5 percent per year in jobs, 32,000 new units of housing created in our area. Once again Dell Computer is going to add tons of new people. A great forecast. I guess 950 people at the new convention center listening to this.
 
At the end of it though, I got to tell you, guess what the number one problem is that we have in central Texas that could kill the golden goose, what could shut down the economic development of Texas? Its just like in real estate, transportation. Transportation is the number one problem we have in continuing the growth we've been having.
 
The reason I tell you that, we're very proud of the process and team that we've put together to do 183A, but I've got to tell you that it is a critical issue to the state of Texas and to central Texas that we get these roads up and built quickly, and the reason that 183 is very important, I think it is going to be, as you know, our first test of exclusive development agreements and how well they work. We've got a great team. We've some great coaches to learn how to do this, but we're going to be learning, as you-all learn how to do this.
 
I've got to tell you as Chairman of the Turnpike Authority that we're going to make this work and that we're going to use this as a template to build lots of other things in this state, including SH 130, and other things that are out there. I have got to have your help.
 
What I am counting on -- and I spent the whole day in Laredo testifying with the Highway commissioners and others about what is happening, particularly in the border of Laredo, IH 35 et cetera, what is hurting this state and we have got to respond to these problems we're having and I have told I guess Phil that there are twelve centers there, as we were sitting there, that we're going to use exclusive development agreements in outsourcing to the private sector the building and turning over the keys to these toll projects. We're going to use that model to build lots of infrastructure much more quickly. We've got to get these roads done in five to seven years not 17 to 20, and thats kind of my message.
 
We're very excited about the project, and I really urge you to plug into it. We're going to make it work, and with your help it will be very successful. Thank you very much..."


Roger again: I think whether we reach a consensus on light rail vs. monorail at this point is a moot point, because it will be be 2010 before we would get it built in any case, and by this time Austin's transportation problems will be such by then that it won't make much difference.
 
The Austin road/real estate lobby is determined to politically stack the deck to give us sprawl, no matter what we do, and whether we have light rail is a minor point compared to this key problem
 
We would be far better off if we had sound land use planning and no light rail than vice versa. But there are too many billions invested in suburban real estate, and Texas laws are too backward, and the road lobby is too strong.
 
I think the local system will have to reach a crisis before we make the needed changes. No better proof of this fact can be found than the fact that TxDOT can only afford A THIRD of the roads that it needs, and its response it to try to conduct business as usual, by building billions of dollars worth of (Williamson County) toll roads on borrowed money! Plus TxDOT has now hired a full time Washington lobbyist. And CAMPO and the local politicians have gotten a ozone flex plan that is unlikely to work, based on voluntary shifts in behavior, to avoid the normal federal sanctions on more road-builing.
 
The analysis & articles above help drive home the point of just how corrupt and unrealistic the local transportation planning process has gotten. It is so bad that ONLY either running out of money, or a peak in world oil production predicted by many experts in this decade, is likely to force a change. Clearly, our main problems are political and not technical, and debating the merits of light rail avoids this reality.
 




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