About 20 people attended the LWV-CA meeting on March 23 to learn about planning efforts regarding regional transportation and air quality.
Dr. Richard Dixon, geography professor from Texas State University, gave the attendees a crash course in the chemicals that are regarded as pollutants in our air. In the Alamo region, which includes Comal County, ground-level ozone is our number one problem. It can cause acute respiratory health effects when people breathe high concentrations of it over several hours. Ground-level ozone is formed when compounds emitted from vehicles are “cooked” in strong sunlight.
Because of high concentrations of ground-level ozone, the Alamo region is currently out of compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The Air Improvement Resources (AIR) Executive Committee of the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) is monitoring the situation. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is prevented from enforcing the standards in Texas because of a state lawsuit. Future, more lenient, standards may bring our region into compliance. Dr. Dixon pointed out that health studies have shown that allowing higher concentrations of ozone will cause more instances of respiratory diseases, including childhood asthma.
Kevin Webb, Comal County Commissioner, Precinct 3, serves on the Executive Committee of the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) that oversees $200 million in federal and state funding for transportation projects in our region. Mr. Webb explained that several road-widening projects are occurring in Comal County right now with this funding. These projects were chosen through a process that prioritizes them according to “technical scores,” showing need and benefits, and “public input scores,” showing high citizen involvement from Comal County residents.
Mr. Webb responded to several questions from the audience. Regarding the absence of a rail system from San Antonio to Austin, he explained that the Lone Star Rail project failed because Union Pacific wouldn't allow the project to use its rail. However, AAMPO is conducting studies with TXDOT and meeting with Capital Area MPO to investigate options.
Is attention being given to moving people who do not have reliable transportation? Mr. Webb responded that some mass transit (buses) is subsidized but given the geography and low use of public transit, the economies of investing in buses have not been good.
Are we planning ahead for a more dense population (e.g., bicycle lanes)? He explained that AAMPO and the Comal County Commissioners are dealing with a diversity of perspectives in Comal County. While some of the newer residents are moving here from urban areas and desire more bicycle and pedestrian access, most longtime residents prefer using their own vehicles. Mr. Webb said that the 25-year plan has about $2.6 billion available to spend in the region and $4.6 billion in transportation needs. They are working to find a balance.
Are air quality concerns incorporated into transportation planning? He said that yes, plans must demonstrate how road construction/improvements will improve air quality (e.g., improve traffic flow and result in less idling).