by Bobbie Jean Sawyer
Mayor Lee Leffingwell spoke in Oak Hill about Austin’s population growth, economic success, traffic congestion, the popular and “jam-full” MetroRail Red Line, and water supply—an issue he said was “over-hyped”.
Leffingwell addressed the Oak Hill Business and Professional Association during the association’s June monthly meeting at Mandola’s Market.
Leffingwell said Austin, which is approaching 2 million people, is fortunate to have economic growth alongside a population boom.
“Growth is one thing; success is another. We have been very successful in economic development. Sometimes people confuse population growth and economic growth, but they’re not the same thing. You can have one without the other. In fact, if you have one without the other that’s a really bad thing,” Leffingwell said. “I tell people all the time ‘let’s not argue about whether or not our city wants to grow because it is going to grow.'”
Leffingwell said he credits Austin’s friendly business climate for its steady growth.
“We’re recognized across the nation—around the world even—for that economic success,” Leffingwell said.
Leffingwell said Austin’s business surge helped drop the unemployment rate to 3.8 percent.
“We’re getting a huge influx of businesses who are either moving to Texas, and particularly the Austin area, or they’re expanding into Austin. That’s a good thing,” Leffingwell said. “With economic growth, that means we have jobs for the people who live here.”
Leffingwell also credited nationally-recognized events, such as the X-Games, for stimulating the city’s economy.
“They’re pumping a huge amount of money into the economy when they stay in those hotel rooms and eat our barbecue and Tex-Mex, and go watch live music shows.”
Leffingwell also addressed the less positive result of a rapidly growing metropolitan area: traffic.
“Our biggest challenge is traffic congestion,” Leffingwell said. “I have over the last two years been trying to address those problems in a meaningful way.”
Leffingwell said that while he believes mass transit is key in solving Austin’s traffic problem, he also supports building more roads.
“I’ve also been advocating strongly for more roads,” Leffingwell said, adding that he supports the building of SH-45, the proposed 3.6 mile roadway that would connect MoPac with FM-1626.
Leffingwell said Project Connect, a plan that involves several different modes of mass transit, would help alleviate traffic congestion in all areas of the city.
“Even if you live in south Austin, there’s going to be something in the project for you.”
Capital Metro’s MetroRail is evidence of commuters’ reliance on mass transit and the need for more mass transit outlets, Leffingwell said.
“Right now we have Red Line from Leander to downtown Austin. It’s very successful,” Leffingwell said. “We have 65,000 boarders a month now and the trains are jam-full. All the transits are jam-full.”
Leffingwell also addressed concerns over water, saying that the city’s water shortage has been “overhyped.” Leffingwell said Austin has plenty of water reserved, due to a 1999 agreement with the Lower Colorado River Authority.
“We wrote a check to the Lower Colorado River Authority for $100 million dollars and that was to reserve in the Highland Lakes a quantity of water for use by the city of Austin for fifty years,” Leffingwell said. “That amount we have reserved is for 325,000 acre feet per year. That’s about double what we have now. Right now we’re using about 150,000 acre feet per year.”
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