ULI/ASHE Breakfast

This morning I dragged Matt Tranchin (say hi Matt!) to a breakfast panel organized by Urban Land Institute (ULI) of North Texas and the American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE).  Mayor Maher Maso of Frisco gave the opening talk after which was followed by a panel including Texas Transportation Commissioner Victor Vandergriff, TxDOT Dallas district engineer Kelly Selman, and Mike Rosa from the Dallas Regional Chamber’s economic development department.

Mayor Maso began by talking about how much Frisco has grown over the past twenty years, from 6,000 people in 1992 with one traffic signal to now being over 150,000 people.  His key point was that no matter how much pavement we put down or lane miles we build, we will never be able to accommodate all of the growth that North Texas is expected to get, and that solving it must be a multi-faceted approach that includes transit and land use.  It isn’t necessarily surprising to hear the communities (like Plano and Frisco) saying the right things.  These are the wealthy communities that realize there probably isn’t a long-term life span for single use, sprawling low value tax base.  Even if the wealthy communities may be able to afford it long-term (if they’re willing to pay more come the second generation).  But what happens to the less wealthy communities?  This is a rhetorical question.

Afterwards, during the panel, Commissioner Vandergriff mentioned that downtown Dallas is the number one most congested area for roads, rail and interstate commerce and that his goal is to attempt to bring about consensus to address these issues.  Rosa mentioned that companies are relocating for (cheaper) talent, but that talent also has wants and needs and that we need to accommodate it.  He didn’t focus too much on it, but he did mention that the CityMAP process led by Commissioner Vandergriff plays a part in that.  In other words, CityMAP has the potential to drive (no pun) the kind of quality of life improvements that talented entrepreneurs and job creators are looking for.

Something I have to talk about however is the anonymous texting of questions.  All you had to do was type in your question to 22333 and your question would scroll across the screen.  This probably isn’t a good idea, for a variety of reasons – one of which being that character limitations, even for a group of professionals.

Matt and I came in peace.  Our questions, which weren’t read (there was an avalanche of questions, scrolling much too fast for the best questions to be determined and asked with any kind of depth) focused on procedural questions.  Matt asked about the TIGER grants that USDOT Secretary Foxx announced today.  I asked about things like deciphering good growth from bad or how we can shift the political narrative on toll facilities so that tolling can be a productive tool in the multi-faceted arsenal to deal with congestion (which I provided the caveat that tolls are bad for financing new capacity).

We asked no questions about 345.  We didn’t want to hijack the conversation in order to keep it big picture and about the political processes for implementing the paradigm shift that many referred to when it comes to congestion and transportation funding.  The problems are systemic not specific.  We thought we were the minority of the crowd of probably two hundred.  The questions texted to the screens were so heavily skewed to 345 and how we can shift funds to transit and other more active modes of transportation, that several of the organizers asked us afterwards if we asked all of them (like hundreds).  We didn’t.  Instead, a crowd of real estate professionals and transportation engineers did.

In other news, Commissioner Vandergriff announced that CityMAP report is 300 pages and almost done.  They’re now working on the executive summary so that it is digestible for everyone not just the wonks like me that are itching to get our hands on the economic development and traffic methodologies.

Related to that, Pam Stein, the director of ULI North Texas, announced their next breakfast on March 17th would be on CityMAP in conjunction with the Greater Dallas Planning Council.  Keep in mind however, that this date may need to move if the report isn’t ready.  Fingers crossed.

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