City of Austin may require smaller developments to pay for traffic mitigation

Austin street scene (KXAN Photo)
Austin street scene (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Under the current city code, any new development in Austin — and we know there are many — must generate 2,000 trips per day before the city is allowed to step in to help mitigate traffic.

The transportation department has been looking to change that and get involved with smaller-scale projects, that on their own may not generate thousands of trips, but combined with other nearby developments have a bigger impact.

Austin’s Emerging Projects Map shows projects in planning or construction phases across the city. KXAN looked at some developments that fell just below the threshold for a traffic impact study, contributing to traffic, but not the cost.

“Every increase in traffic is felt because it’s a little bit more dangerous for your children,” Mike Lavigne, who lives in the Crestview neighborhood, told KXAN. He’s followed conversations about the city holding developers more accountable for traffic improvements. “We need to recognize and be real about what the impact is and address that so that we’re not, you know, eating our golden goose.”

Standing at a site in his neighborhood, he said, “What we have seen in the past with the developer for this particular property is — they’ll carve out pieces of us to keep it under the 2,000 trip threshold.”

The Austin Transportation Department (ATD) confirmed, “What we’ve experienced, especially with the rapid growth these past few years, is that cumulative impact.”

The following are examples of projects that call for a traffic impact study:

  • 200 single family houses
  • 300 multi-family units
  • 170,000 sq. ft. office
  • 15,000 sq. ft. shopping center
  • 12-pump gas station

KXAN zeroed in on housing, and asked ATD if it finds a lot of projects call just below those benchmarks. “Yes, we do. We know that developers know what’s required for a study,” ATD Managing Engineer Eric Bollich said.

KXAN easily found a few developments by searching the Emerging Projects Map, then confirming whether a traffic impact analysis was completed. Water Marq, on East Riverside, has 247 units. The Paddock at Norwood, on Norwood Park Boulevard, is 48 units shy of the 300 multi-family unit mark. So no traffic study.

“I think this will really address development paying for itself,” Bollich said, meaning developers would pay more, another burden before building. “It would be traffic signal improvements, putting in a pedestrian hybrid beacon, safer ways for pedestrians to cross streets,” Bollich explained.

These are traffic mitigation needs that typically falls to taxpayers.

“Sometimes this leads to requests for the general public, all citizens, to fund improvement through bond measures,” Bollich said. “If we had captured these impacts through proper studies and asking for transportation improvements,hopefully it alleviates some of the burden that’s felt by everybody.”

City council will discuss the traffic mitigation ordinance at its Thursday meeting next week.

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