Department Deep Dive: Austin Transportation Department
Each year, the City seeks feedback from the community on the quality of the services the city provides. During last year’s survey, Austinites’ satisfaction with the city’s transportation planning and traffic management ranked 20% lower than all other city services.
For this reason, we decided to kick off the department deep dives with the Austin Transportation Department.
The Establishment of ATD
In 2008, the City of Austin established the Austin Transportation Department (ATD) to address the city’s sustained transportation and mobility needs. The department administers and oversees the management and planning of the city’s transportation and parking systems.
Before the establishment of ATD, the Public Works Department (PWD) housed all of the city’s transportation and mobility programs. The transfer of critical transportation programs, such as traffic management, signal coordination and bicycle infrastructure oversight, from the PWD to ATD took place gradually through the annual budget process. Each year the budget for ATD increased as more programs, employees, and resources moved from the purview of PWD to ATD.
ATD and the Transportation User Fee
Austin funds its transportation management services primarily through the Transportation User Fee (TUF). The TUF is a monthly fee added to individual’s utility bill to fund the city’s mobility maintenance and preservation efforts. The TUF is $9.77, but the FY2017 proposed budget raises the TUF to $11.52 per month.
The PWD and ATD divide the revenue generated from the TUF, and it serves as the largest source of revenue for both departments. The City Council allocates the TUF revenue between ATD and PWD during the annual budget process.
The transportation user fee and parking management services (i.e. parking meters and transportation permitting) serve as the two largest revenue sources in ATD’s annual budget. Although the city increased ATD’s share of the TUF revenue annually from 3% in 2008 to 30% in 2015, the PWD receives 70% of the TUF revenue to fund the physical implementation and maintenance of Austin’s transportation infrastructure.
In order to fulfill the city’s goal to make ATD and PWD financially independent from the General Fund, the annual budget has included an increase in the TUF for six of the past eight years totaling an additional $27 million in revenue, while the General Fund resources allocated to the transportation fund decreased nearly $4.2 million.
Despite the decrease in General Fund aid to the ATD budget, the city’s population growth and the increase in the TUF resulted in a total $46.77 increase in transportation funding per capita since the establishment of ATD.
Services ATD provides
The largest portion of ATD’s budget supports its traffic management activities including short-term traffic management and long-term infrastructure planning. The programs under the jurisdiction of traffic management include arterial management, bicycle infrastructure management, and transportation engineering.
Arterial management entails the installation and maintenance of traffic signals for vehicles, transit routes, pedestrians, and bikes. The bicycle infrastructure management program includes developing, programming, and constructing bicycle lanes and routes as well as working with regional partners such as TXDOT and Travis Country to implement more general multimodal projects in coordination with local and regional transportation plans. The traffic engineers of ATD conduct safety studies, develop neighborhood traffic calming plans, review development plans and their impact on transportation, and investigate citizen’s traffic control requests.
Although the ATD remains a relatively new department, it is charged with addressing Austin’s most pressing challenges. In the annual budget process, the City Council faces critical decisions on how to allocate resources to manage and ease the challenges of Austin’s unparalleled growth. The decisions made about ATD’s funding and resources will play a significant role in Austin’s mobility landscape in the coming years.
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