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Rapidly Urbanizing/Capital Area MPO – Austin, Texas

The case studies discussed thus far focus on rural areas that reached urban status (population of 50,000 or more) after the 2000 Census. The final case study addresses existing rural areas that are rapidly urbanizing as a result of the growth and sprawl of an adjacent metropolitan area. There are significant challenges when rural areas that are expected to be urbanized by the next decennial census are incorporated into an existing metropolitan planning process.

Located in Travis County in central Texas, the city of Austin is the State's capital and a rapidly growing urban area. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) planning area includes three central Texas counties Travis, Williamson, and Hays. The CAMPO planning area has a population of 1,160,000 as of 2000.

Prior to 2003, the CAMPO planning area was defined as Travis County and those portions of Hays and Williamson counties that were specifically included in the Austin urbanized area. In 2003, the CAMPO policy board expanded the planning area to include all of Williamson and Hays Counties because the rural areas in both counties are rapidly urbanizing (See Figure 12). From 1990 to 2000 the population of Williamson County grew 79 percent from 140,000 to 250,000. In the same time period, the population of Hays County grew 49 percent from 66,000 to 98,000. The current three-county CAMPO area is expected to continue double-digit growth for the next 20 years.

Two neighboring counties, Bastrop and Caldwell, are not included in the CAMPO planning area even though both counties are part of the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area. These two counties are more rural in nature but are also rapidly urbanizing. Bastrop County experienced 50 percent population growth from 1990 to 2000 and reached 58,000 in 2000 county-wide (the county is not classified as urbanized because the population has not reached the required density for urban designation). Bastrop County is expected to reach a population of 77,000 by 2005 – an additional 33 percent growth in just five years. Caldwell County's population grew by 22 percent from 1990 to 2000 and is projected to reach 37,000 in 2005 and top 50,000 by 2015.

As these rural counties rapidly urbanize, CAMPO, regional planning agencies, regional transportation agencies, and the local communities in the Capital Area are using innovative approaches to address the challenges of incorporating rural areas in the existing metropolitan planning process.


One of the major challenges facing the Capital Area is how to respond to the rapid population growth and the impacts on land use and the transportation system. Currently, there is no unified vision or strategy in the region to manage growth, particularly with regard to land use. Without such a vision, the investment in transportation infrastructure is a reaction to sprawling development and the demand for additional capacity.

The CAMPO Mobility 2030 Plan envisions a transportation system "that will enhance quality of life in the three county area by balancing mobility with regional goals relating to the economy, the environment, and social equity." The plan includes a range of projects and programs to expand transportation infrastructure for different modes. Major projects recommended in this plan include:

The CAMPO Mobility 2030 Plan is based on population and employment projections reflecting historic trends extended forward to 2030. The plan does not include an emphasis on managed growth or new initiatives for land use control.

Rapid urbanization in rural areas is expected to continue in part because county governments in Texas do not have growth controls over development. Only incorporated cities and towns have the authority to control land use. The ability to influence development in rapidly urbanizing rural areas is largely limited to education and negotiation with private investors and real estate developers.

There is an effort among citizens in the region to encourage governments, investors and developers to rethink how the area is developed to accommodate rapid population growth. Residents in the five counties of Williamson, Travis, Hays, Bastrop, and Caldwell Counties have been involved in a process to develop a vision for how they would like the region to grow, called Envision Central Texas. This initiative emphasizes land use, transportation, the environment, and the economy, and the relationship between those in the region. Envision Central Texas is guided by a non-profit organization that includes representatives from throughout the region.

From input gathered at public workshops held throughout the region, Envision Central Texas created four potential growth scenarios for residents to consider. During the fall of 2003, the residents of Central Texas responded to a survey related to how well the scenarios meet a variety of growth challenges facing the region. Based on that input, Envision Central Texas developed a report that includes a vision for future regional growth and follow-up initiatives that Envision Central Texas stakeholders are working on to implement the vision. Envision Central Texas has no direct regulatory or funding authority, and must work in partnership with local jurisdictions and others to implement the preferred future vision.

The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board recently approved the 2030 Transportation Plan with a stipulation that the Envision Central Texas model be examined as an alternative to determine the different impacts on long range transportation planning. Analyzing the two different types of land use policies (development as usual versus the Envision Central Texas model) may generate transportation alternatives and choices for the community. There is an opportunity for community leaders representing these two different points of view to work together to develop a regional plan in the same way as other agencies in the region have done to address regional air and water quality issues.

The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board directed staff to analyze the probable impacts on transportation if different types of land use policies could be realized. This should provide information for policy makers to consider. However, the discussion continues about the possible introduction of legislation to give counties in Texas some authority over land use.


The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board is unusual in that it is comprised of two state senators and eight state representatives along with 11 locally elected officials and two regional transportation agency officials. With a total of 23 members on the board, the board composition is as follows:

By including officials who are elected to state office, the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board includes participation by representatives with diverse perspectives on local issues. Like county jurisdictions, State districts often cross urban and rural boundaries. In total, the state representatives and senators comprise 44 percent of the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board, as seen in the Table below.

Table: Representation on the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board

Jurisdiction State Districts City County TxDOT Other Total Percent
Travis 7 4
3 2** 16 70%
Williamson 3 1
Round Rock
1 5 22%
Hays 1 1 4%
TxDOT 1* 1 4%
Total 10 5 5 1 2 23 100%
Percent 44% 22% 22% 4% 8% 100%

Source: CAMPO; table prepared by Texas Transportation Institute
* TxDOT Austin District includes all counties in CAMPO
** The Alliance of Cities is primarily small cities in Travis County.
Capital Metro serves most of the Austin urbanized area in Travis County and a small portion of Williamson County.

It is appropriate to note that not all regional planning professionals in the Capital Area agree that incorporating a large share of MPO membership from State districts (44 percent) is a positive feature. Some observers believe that State elected officials are far removed from the planning issues that impact transportation and are less likely to be mindful of development patterns, land use challenges, economic development impact, and other growth issues that are typically addressed at the local level.

Representation on the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board is roughly proportional to the 2000 population distribution by county as seen in the Table below.

Table: CAMPO Representation in Proportion to Population

Jurisdiction Population 2000 Percent of Total Population Percent of Represents on CAMPO Board
Travis 812,000 70% 70%
Williamson 250,000 22% 22%
Hays 98,000 8% 4%
TxDOT 4%
Total 1,160,000 100% 100%

Source: CAMPO; table prepared by Texas Transportation Institute

As described above, the CAMPO planning area was expanded in 2003 to include all of Williamson and Hays Counties. Neighboring Bastrop and Caldwell Counties were not included. The population of Bastrop County was 58,000 in 2000 and the population of Caldwell County was 32,000. The population of both counties combined is less than Hays County (with one MPO policy board member). Many workers residing in Bastrop and Caldwell counties commute to Travis, Hays, or Williamson counties for employment. The additional two counties were not included because the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board and the MPO staff felt the expansion would be taking on too much too soon given the decision to include all of Williamson and Hays Counties.

Bastrop and Caldwell counties were offered non-voting membership on the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board. The elected officials from each county declined the opportunity, preferring to wait until participation included a vote on the board. However, case studies of other MPOs have suggested that non-voting participation on the policy board can be a way for the representative from a rapidly urbanizing rural area to learn about the metropolitan planning process and to influence planning decisions through collaboration.

Although the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board deferred the addition of the two rapidly urbanizing rural counties, the CAMPO staff will include Bastrop and Caldwell counties in the long range projections for population and employment. Both counties will be included in the region's transportation model for the next long range transportation plan update. This is an appropriate first step leading to the addition of the counties on the policy board in the future.


A process is in-place to involve representatives from the counties neighboring the Austin urbanized area. The Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) created and staffs the Capital Area Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CARTPO) to help coordinate regional transportation planning. The CAPCOG planning area is larger than the three-county CAMPO area. Ten counties in the Capital Area are part of CAPCOG, including Travis, Williamson, and Hays counties as well as Bastrop and Caldwell counties (See Figure 13).

CARTPO was originally created as a response to federal legislation (Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century), which called for state departments of transportation to work with officials in non-metropolitan areas when making transportation planning and programming decisions. CARTPO was one of several regional planning organizations (RPOs) voluntarily created by Texas Councils of Governments to help address regional transportation needs.

CARTPO represents more than rural local officials because its membership consists of representatives from both urban and rural counties in the CAPCOG region. CARTPO is not intended to duplicate the work of CAMPO, which plans for all of Travis County, Williamson, and Hays Counties. Rather, it recognizes the strong interconnectivity between urban and rural areas in the Capital Area region and the importance of incorporating urban and rural plans and input into a region-wide focus on transportation.

CARTPO members meet once a month and undertake a regional transportation project selection process every year. The selection process begins with the CAPCOG counties bringing their top three roadway projects to the table. These projects are then ranked based on certain criteria to identify the top three projects for the region. In previous years, CARTPO representatives have appeared before the Texas Transportation Commission to request funding for the top three projects.

Those who participate in CARTPO feel it is an effective use of their time. While the CARTPO agenda has been largely set (to date) to address roadway planning, there is an opportunity that the scope of the group could be expanded to include items that will involve rural stakeholders from rapidly urbanizing areas into the metropolitan planning process.


The transportation planning and operating agencies in the Capital Area participate in cooperative ventures for planning and delivery of services in the region.

County Thoroughfare Plans

Population and employment projections are a critical element to long range planning. In some instances, rural counties and small cities do not have the resources or technical expertise to conduct long range population or travel forecasting. For example, Caldwell County does not have a transportation planner or the funds to participate in regional long range planning or even to develop a major thoroughfare plan. CAPCOG will provide technical assistance to prepare major thoroughfare plans for Caldwell County and other rural communities. Helping communities develop thoroughfare plans serves as an important pre-cursor and basis for regional planning of transportation improvements.

In a similar effort, CAMPO has agreed to include Bastrop and Caldwell counties in the regional travel demand model. These efforts by CAPCOG and CAMPO bring new long range forecasting to these rural yet urbanizing areas. It also establishes a new era of collaboration and presents an opportunity for CAPCOG and CAMPO to coordinate the regional transportation program.

Population Projections

Area agencies are also trying to coordinate population data. This coordination is needed because different agencies in the region use different methods to calculate population projections and sometimes reach different results. The projections used by CAMPO are based on past demographic trends, while the CAPCOG projections are based on econometrics. CAMPO uses county population projections from the Texas State Data Center and works with communities to allocate population down to the TAZ level. CAPCOG also starts with information from the Texas State Data Center and then uses an econometric model to calculate population projections at the county level but does not allocate to a smaller area unit. The Texas Department of Transportation, Austin District feels the differences in projection methodology provide the area with an important system of checks and balance for the forecasts.

Coordination of Public Transportation Services

One challenge in many rural areas is the inability to maintain transit service and funding as areas rapidly urbanize. There are two agencies in the Capital Area responsible for providing public transportation for the general public. Capital Metro is a regional transit authority serving the city of Austin and portions of Travis and Williamson counties. Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) is a rural transit district and provides general public transportation services throughout Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette and Lee counties as well as in the rural areas of the three counties in the CAMPO area, Williamson, Hays and Travis County. The urban areas in Travis and Williamson counties not part of Capital Metro and are not included in the service area of CARTS.

Some of the fastest growing areas in the Capital Area are, therefore, excluded from the service areas of the regional transit providers. Transit services may be provided by a public transit provider through an inter-local agreement. In the spirit of regional cooperation, Capital Metro negotiated an agreement to share Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Section 5307 urbanized area formula funding with the City of Round Rock, which is in the Austin urbanized area but not in the service area for Capital Metro. The agreement may also serve as a model for CAMPO to get involved and develop similar methodologies for allocation of regional funding.

Texas is also at the forefront of a national effort to coordinate all public transportation services between rural, urban, and metro areas. This effort began in 2003 with the passage of legislation (House Bill 3588) which requires TxDOT to identify gaps and overlaps in public transportation services with the goal of maximizing efficiency in the delivery of all public transportation services, including health and human services transportation. As part of this effort, coordinating committees are being formed to develop regional service plans.

One such committee is the Capital Area Regional Transportation Coordinating Committee (RTCC). The Capital Area RTCC is comprised of 18 different agencies with representatives from CAPCOG, TxDOT, CARTS, CAMPO, Capital Metro, Health and Human Services Commission, City of Austin, and various stakeholders representing Workforce Development and Developmental Disabilities. The Capital Area RTCC is currently preparing the region's transit coordination plan. This early preparation is an example for other coordinating plans in the state.

Table: Capital Area MPO Summary

Planning Area Notable Practice


  • The MPO policy board directed staff to examine what impacts two different types of land use policies may have on long range transportation planning. Analyzing the two different types of land use policies (development as usual versus a greater emphasis on growth management) may generate transportation alternatives and choices for the community, especially impacting rural areas that are rapidly urbanizing.


  • The MPO policy board includes state senators and state representatives along with locally elected officials and regional transportation agency officials. By including officials who are elected to state office, the MPO policy board includes participation by representatives with diverse perspectives on local issues. In addition to county jurisdictions, State districts often cross urban and rural boundaries.


  • The council of governments sponsors an RPO to serve as a rural planning organization for involvement in the regional transportation planning process.


  • The MPO and the council of governments collaborate to provide technical assistance to local rural counties / communities.
  • The region is at the forefront of a statewide effort to coordinate public transportation services including transit and client transportation programs for health and human services.


Ed Collins, Advanced Transportation Planning Director, TxDOT Austin District, 512-832-7041,
Maureen McCoy Daniel, Assistant Director, CAMPO, 512-974-2656,
Stevie Greathouse, Senior Planner, CAMPO, 512-974-9715,
Betty Voights, Executive Director, CAPCOG, 512-916-6001,


Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization
Capital Area Council of Governments
Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Capital Area Rural Transportation System

Updated: 10/20/2015
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