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The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization oversees transportation planning for the greater Austin region. CAMPO’s jurisdiction includes Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson counties. Every urban area with a population of 50,000 or greater is federally-required to have a metropolitan planning organization. As part of its federal mandate, CAMPO works with all the local governments within its jurisdiction as well as the Texas Department of Transportation to produce a 25-year long range plan for transportation in the area. As part of its duties, CAMPO also approves federal and state fund use in the region.Beginning with the adoption of its 2035 plan in 2010, CAMPO focused planning out the region’s growth around the centers concept. Rather than allowing the city to spread out, the centers concepts plots specific areas for higher density development. Under the idea, the centers would all be connected by public transportation.

Should Burnet County Join CAMPO? Council Votes Today

A new transportation working group has reconvened to find a way to connect regional mass transit lines in Central Texas that include highway managed lanes and rail lines.
Daniel Reese
A new transportation working group has reconvened to find a way to connect regional mass transit lines in Central Texas that include highway managed lanes and rail lines.

The capital area’s transportation planning authority, known as CAMPO, is made up of representatives from Austin and five counties of Central Texas. Now CAMPO is considering bringing on a seventh member, Burnet County.

The Austin City Council will vote today on whether it wants to approve Burnet County’s request to join (PDF). The equation might seem simple: As part of the region, Burnet County should have a say in the region’s transportation needs. But with a cacophony of voices speaking for CAMPO, no decision is straightforward.

The 19 CAMPO members seated around their table at each meeting include at least one person for each of the five counties, plus a member from the state Department of Transportation and one from Cap Metro. More populated counties have more representatives; Travis alone has nine.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell is on CAMPO’s board. He says the long table represents a diversity of voices trying to plan the region’s transportation needs through 2030. “This is what regionalism is all about,” he said.

Leffingwell says it makes perfect sense to bring on Burnet County. Census numbers show thousands of commuters travel between the capital area and Burnet County every day.

But one of Austin City Council member Laura Morrison’s concerns is that the group is getting too big: Every time a city grows to 50,000, the members need to scoot over and add one more chair to that long table.

“How many cities of population 50,000 do we expect to have by 2030 in our region?” Morrison said. “If it’s 50, we’re talking about really a framework that doesn’t work for the future, and we need to look at that.”

Not only do new members sit at the table and join the conversation, but a new county would become part of CAMPO’s board. And that’s the part that doesn’t sit well with council member Chris Riley.

“Travis County residents constitute 60 percent of the population of the five-county region, but in terms of the makeup of the board we only have 53 percent of the members,” Riley said. “If we just go and add one Burnet County representative, that would actually move us in the wrong direction; that will widen the gap between our population and our representation.”

While politicians in Austin discuss whether and how Burnet County can join CAMPO, Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger is unfazed.

“We are not interested in the politics of being on a board,” Klaeger said. All she wants to do, she said, is show that her county already is a major player in the region.

“281 doesn’t start and end in Burnet County, and 71, 1431 -- 281 is a major corridor; because 35 is so congested, we call it ‘the preferred route,’ so it really affects Travis County mostly in keeping some of the traffic off 35.”

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.