Most of us love Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.
Here in the heart of Texas, we’ve lived it for three decades—a bulldozing bender, with the constant promise that if we keep spending billions on more roads and bigger highways, then our traffic problems will be solved. But, traffic just gets worse. And, more of what we love gets lost, all at once or in small increments, the unavoidable side effects of urban sprawl.
Then, a terrible pandemic comes along. We are forced to stay at home—take a breath. The air clears. The traffic disappears. You can hear the birds, the wind, and neighborhood kids playing outside.
As Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner and Save Our Springs co-founder, recently observed, the coronavirus pandemic has shown us we don’t have to pave our Austin paradise with the false promise of reducing congestion. Employers, both public and private, can and should continue telecommuting practices made mandatory during this pandemic. These measures don’t have to be as extreme, once Covid-19 passes; but letting more people work from home on more days, combined with staggered work hours to avoid rush hour jam ups and other strategies that reduce driving, can pretty much solve our traffic problems.
These strategies cost very little. They reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion, without pavement and pollution.
Most of the $42+ billion in tax dollars that our transportation leaders at CAMPO want us to cough up over the next 25 years could be saved and redirected. Instead of paving hundreds of miles of concrete, we could invest in other critical needs, such as public education, affordable housing, reliable health care, and saving our Hill Country home from global heating.
The worst part of the plan calls for spending over $4.2 billion to build new roads and expand existing ones over the Edwards Aquifer watershed in southwest Travis and western Hays counties.
For a fraction of the $4.2 billion that CAMPO wants us to spend expanding roads and building new ones within the Edwards Aquifer watershed, we could expand our parks and watershed protection lands in southwest Travis and western Hays counties, protecting the life source of Austin, Buda, Kyle, and San Marcos forever. The simple fact is that it is far cheaper to save rather than pave the Edwards Aquifer watershed in southwest Travis and western Hays Counties.
Overwhelmingly, residents and voters prefer that southwest Travis and western Hays County stay rural and scenic, protecting our beautiful Hill Country home waters.
CAMPO staff justifies this $4.2 billion plan to pave roads across the aquifer by projecting that the population within the Hays County segment of the Edwards Aquifer watershed will increase by 450% in the 30 years from 2015 to 2045, growing from 79,000 to 433,000. But, CAMPO’s own data shows that the actual growth trend in western Hays County would more likely yield 54% growth, or 122,000 by 2045. (See the numbers here.)
CAMPO’s vision for the future of the Hill Country is bleak—paved, polluted, and pumped dry.
In our age of global heating, it’s time to stop paving the countryside with roads we don’t need and that encourage more driving, not less. The last month has shown us that telecommuting, staggered work days, and other traffic demand management strategies can unclog our roads, clean up our air, and help us avoid billions in unnecessary road construction.
No one wanted or needed the coronavirus pandemic. The pain and death it brings, here at home and across the planet, was unimaginable just a few months ago. But, we can learn from it.. Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster explains how people, working together, can shape the futures they (we) want when recovering from catastrophe. It’s a better future that bubbles up from people working together, often against powerful forces that only want to go back to how things were, paving paradise and putting up parking lots (both linear and square).Please join us today with a small step toward shaping a better future for our Hill Country home by speaking up on the CAMPO 2045 draft plan, with your own message or with one we have suggested here. And if you are able during these difficult times, please consider a tax-deductible donation to support our work here at Save Our Springs Alliance. Stay safe, but please do get outside and enjoy the beautiful springtime that surrounds us.