2014 was quite a year for Austin. Like all recent years, the unofficial bird of Austin — the construction crane — flew high above the city skyline. No matter how much lifelong Austinites want this place to stay the same, Austin keeps growing and evolving. Here are four things to watch in 2015 as our city keeps moving along.
4.) The 10-1 Austin City Council
Back in 2012, Austin voters passed a ballot proposition to change the make-up of the city council. Before the most recent election, the mayor and the six council members were elected at-large meaning every voter had a say in every mayoral and city council race. In November 2014 (with runoffs in most of the races in December 2014), voters picked the mayor at-large, and chose council members to represent geographical districts. The council expanded to eleven members — the mayor plus 10 council members.
When new mayor Steve Adler and the council members took their oaths of office, only one council member remained from the old order of things — Kathie Tovo who defeated fellow incumbent council member Chris Riley and other “also-rans” for the District 9 seat. Riley bowed out of a runoff leaving the seat to Tovo.
Those behind the change in council make-up hoped this change would usher in wider representation. After all, no one on the previous council lived south of Ladybird Lake. Will this new council act differently than the old one? Only time will tell.
3.) The 84th Legislative Session
Each odd-numbered year, the Texas Legislature convenes at the Capitol to change existing laws and make new ones. Starting at noon on the second Tuesday in January, the regular session goes on for 140 days. The hot-button issues change from year to year, but topics like school funding, water rights and taxes tend to boil up each go-round.
There are a lot of new faces in the House of Representatives, and several key ascensions of House members to the Senate. Many statewide office holders including Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick are new to their posts.
No two sessions are alike, and the 84th is sure to have some drama in store.
2.) Year Two of Charlie Strong’s Era at UT
University of Texas football fans had high hopes when Charlie Strong was named Mack Brown’s successor as head coach. After dismissing nine players before and during the season and finishing with a losing record that includes a 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, some fans might be worried, but that is misplaced. From the outside, it appears his no-nonsense attitude is changing the entitlement culture he was brought in to remedy. Strong’s team showed moments of great play, and he can build on that. Year two probably will not be the 10-win season Texas fans have come to expect, but odds are the Longhorn football team will show improvement after 2014’s rocky campaign.
1.) Completion of the MoPac Express Lanes
The MoPac Improvement Project will add tolled lanes to MoPac on the 11-mile stretch between Parmer Lane and Cesar Chavez Street. Commuters have dealt with narrowed lanes and the constant presence of traffic cones and other barriers.
It seems like the only roads that get built in Austin these days are toll roads. They certainly are nice amenities for the community, but it is hard to get in or out of Austin without choosing between a toll and a minimum of 30 minutes in snarled traffic.
The tolled lanes on MoPac will have varying toll rates depending on the current traffic levels. The more congestion the lane saves you from, the more you will pay. The project is scheduled to wrap up in the fall. Will it speed up traffic for everyone? We should find out toward the end of 2015.
An environmental study is in progress for a project to continue the tolled express lanes southward.
Feature photo: Flickr user Joey Parsons, creative commons licensed.