Austin Engineers Wade Through Pile of Traffic Studies

AUSTIN, Texas -- About two dozen large developments are waiting for the City of Austin's approval, and it all comes down to the traffic impact they'll have.

The city has eight traffic engineers dedicated to reviewing the impact of development, and they say their plates are full. Upal Barua oversees all traffic impact analyses, or TIAs.

"Right now, it's myself and I have a graduate engineer," he said. "We take the lead on the TIAs in the Austin Transportation Department."

Developers are required to submit a traffic impact analysis if their project creates more than 2,000 trips per day. A trip to the mailbox--if it were located off your property--and back would count as four trips: leaving home, arriving at mailbox, leaving mailbox and arriving at home.

Large projects like the Grove at Shoal Creek and Plaza Saltillo have taken more than a year to review.

"Some of them are more complex," Barua said. "It also depends on the geographic location and the size of the developments."

Barua said larger projects have more variables to consider, but Ward Tisdale with the Real Estate Council of Austin said the time it takes to complete their reviews impact market prices.

"Anything that adds delay adds costs to a project," he said. "What that means is more money out of the pockets of the renter or the home buyer."

The City Council approved adding three more engineers to the team next year. Officials said that should help clear the backlog.

Tisdale said traffic impact analyses are warranted, but they have tangible negative impacts.

"For large developments, traffic impact studies are reasonable and make sense, but too many times they are used as an excuse not to develop to the highest and best use" he said. "It has the effect of suppressing supply. That is really the biggest problem in Austin is that we don't have enough supply."

The city's in the process of rewriting its land use code through CodeNEXT. That's expected to be finished next year. Barua said the new code requirements will change the way his team of engineers reviews large-scale projects. However, he said they follow nationally recognized standards to review projects.