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Suburban Sprawl Calling Out For Smarter Roads

The future of the Austin regional transportation network was the hot topic at the Williamson County Growth Summit hosted by the Austin Business Journal. City planners, technology leaders and designers converged at the Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel & Conference Center.


Central Texas is facing the challenges of population growth, migration and strained infrastructure. The panel came together to discuss the influence of technology on these issues and city planning in general.


The panelists included Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein, Texas External Affairs Director for Uber Leandre Johns, RideScout founder Joseph Kopser and ArgoDesign’s Jared Ficklin. The moderator was mayor of Round Rock Alan McGraw.


The panel agreed that technology was shaping human behavior and urban planning. However, technology was not the only solution. Existing infrastructure had to be improved to handle present needs.


Building codes and future road designs need to be analyzed and changed to accommodate riderless cars and new ride-sharing services like Uber. Roads must be built with the capability to interact with autonomous vehicles. Parking lots and toll stations need modifications to accept these vehicles.


Heiligenstein emphasized that planning should not ignore the limitations of today. He stated, “Williamson has done such an amazing job of structuring its infrastructure over the past 15 years or so. But you are still going to have more people coming here. Try building those roads. Try expanding those capacities. It’s getting to a point where, the corridors we have remaining, we need to make them smarter, more efficient and more technically advanced.”


Mike Heiligenstein is the first and current Executive Director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. He is committed to the ongoing development of a modern, multi-modal transportation system. He is a member of the advisory board of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. He was a public official for 23 years prior to joining CTRMA.


Created in 2002, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority was given the mission to develop and modernize the central Texas transport network. By state law, the authority may implement airports, roadways, highways and all other transport services. It created the Highway Emergency Response Operator (HERO) program to provide free roadside assistance to stranded motorists and damaged vehicles. Working with application designer Metropia, CTRMA created a mobile application that provided faster, alternative real-time routing for commuters.

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Group Meets to Discuss Impact of Technology on Transportation

A group of individuals met for a discussion regarding the transportation challenges faced in suburban communities in the Austin region and how technology is impacting transportation. This event took place at the Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel & Conference Center and included Mike Heiligenstein, the executive director of Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

Though Heiligenstein realizes that there will most certainly be drastic changes to transportation caused by technological advancement, he still believes that an investment in the expansion of infrastructure is necessary in order to meet the demands of the growing population in the suburbs.

One of the panel members pointed out that it is important for building codes to remain flexible in order to accommodate the advances in technology such as driverless cars. Heiligenstein, however, is skeptical and does not believe the use of autonomous vehicles will grow as rapidly as expected.

Leandre Johns, external affairs director for Uber Technologies, believes that ridesharing meets the needs of commuters in the area by providing them a way to get from their home to another source of public transportation such as the bus stop.

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is an independent government agency that was created in 2002 with the objective of designing an innovative transportation network for Central Texas in order to reduce congestion and provide commuters with transportation options.

Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein has been with the Authority since it began. He has overseen major projects such as 183A in Williamson County, which implemented a fully automated cashless toll collection system. Heiligenstein is also President of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Associate.  He studied at the University of Texas at Austin and earned a Bachelors and Masters Degrees in both Government and Business Administration. Prior to being selected to serve as Executive Director of the Authority, Heiligenstein served his community as both a Round Rock City Council member and a Williamson County Commissioner.

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Mike Heiligenstein and Texas Transportation

At the 19th annual Williamson Growth Summit Mike Heiligenstein (Executive Director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority), Joseph Kopser (Ridescout LLC founder), Leandre Johns (Uber, Director of Texas External Affairs), and Jared Ficklin (ArgoDesign) all met to discuss changes technology is having on transportation in the Austin region. Rideshare apps and driverless vehicles have the capacity to revolutionize transportation, but those innovations will not be enough to overcome the shear number of people moving into the Austin suburbs. Johns made the argument for Uber’s ability to help commuters make the first and last miles of their journey easier and thus encourage the use of public transportation. But even if there is a greater emphasis on mass transit and ridesharing programs, population growth is going to overwhelm any gains that might be made.  One important way to keep things efficient is to make sure building codes are flexible and can cope with all the different changes. With driverless cars on the road, will people really need all that room in a parking garage to stand up? Will more charging stations be needed for electric cars? These challenges require flexibility to keep up with the pace of change. This event was held at the Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel

Mike Heiligenstein has Masters Degrees in Government and Business Administration. He served as an elected official for 23 years in Williamson County and during that time he served on the Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council as well as the Clean Air Force of Texas. He took on his current role in the Mobility Authority when the government agency was created in 2002. He oversaw the creation of two tollroads: first, the 183A which has an electronic cashless system, and then the 290 which is currently constructing expressway lanes. A group of peers from across the nation chose him as President of the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association for 2014.

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