Ten Most Sprawl-Threatened Medium Cities
Number Two: Austin
Austin is one of
the fastest growing cities in the country.
Over 1,000 people per month on average have moved to the Austin area since 1990. In the
1980's, the area's population escalated by almost 50 percent. Also on an upward track is
the amount of land area occupied by the Austin urbanized area: the region nearly doubled
in the 1980s and expanded another 160 percent again from 1990 to 1996. From 1982 to 1992,
the amount of open space lost to development increased by over 35 percent.
The consequences of such explosive growth are reflected most particularly on the
roadways in Austin. The problem is especially evident on I-35 where traffic has grown 754
percent since 1960. A total of 200,000 cars cross Austin's Town Lake every workday,
according to state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos. For every 1 percent of population growth
occurring in this region, traffic grows by 4 percent on I-35. (Austin American-Statesman)
Officials are now examining the option of building an I-35 bypass, known as Texas 130,
around Austin to ease current and future traffic congestion. Many residents believe the
bypass would exacerbate not mitigate suburban sprawl, resulting in more cars clogging the
Attitudes in Austin are changing as developers and environmentalists work hard to find
common ground. Earlier this year, Austin's City Council began to consider the concept of
smart growth and launched a series of initiatives to direct development east of MoPac
Boulevard (Loop 1) and away from drinking water sources to the west. Also, Austin is the
only city to join the commuter rail district for the I-35 corridor as a first step in
developing a rail plan for the region.
This past July, Austin citizens won a critical fight over a developer's plans to build
subdivisions in a beautiful and ecologically important part of the region. The Texas
Supreme Court came down on the side of clean drinking water when it ruled that an
ordinance passed in 1992 to protect water quality by restricting development is legal.
Barton Springs watershed, an area of pristine springs and limestone hills, contributes to
the city's water supply. One of the toughest in the country, the Save Our Springs
Ordinance limits development to 15 percent, 20 percent or 25 percent of a tract of land
depending on its location. It also requires that runoff after development cause no more
stream pollution than predevelopment runoff.
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