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SWUTC Research Project Description

Future Mobility Demand in Megaregions: A National Study with a Focus on the Gulf Coast

University:  University of Texas at Austin

Principal Investigator:
Ming Zhang
Community and Regional Planning Department
(512) 471-0139

Project Monitor:
Daniel Yang
Program Manager of GIS, Demographic Forecasting and Travel Demand Modeling
Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization

Funding Source:  USDOT and State of Texas General Revenue Funds

Total Project Cost: $64,285

Project Number:  600451-00074

Date Started: 5/1/12

Estimated Completion Date:  6/30/13

Project Summary

Project Abstract:
National projections show that, by 2050, the US population will grow by 40% from its Year 2000 level; about three quarters of the nation’s population and wealth will concentrate in the eleven emerging megaregions in continental US; Two of them, the Texas Triangle and the Gulf Coast conjunct in the Houston-Galveston metropolitan area. Megaregions as new economic geographies are playing a critical role in the national / regional economic growth and competition in the era of globalization. Nationwide a networked research effort has been ongoing, with researchers conducting case study of the megeragions where their home institutions locate. The first phase (approximately five years in 2005-10) of megaregion study in the US was mainly on completing baseline reports for individual megaregions. The proposed research will first examine mobility trends in megaregions nationally. It will then conduct in-depth analysis on future mobility demand in the Gulf Coast, which extends the prior study of the Texas Triangle. The proposed research presents practical significance. Metropolitan areas within the megaregions are already facing such problems as roadway congestion, emissions, and development disparity, which are threatening regional prosperity and the Quality of Life. These problems will only be compounded by future population and economic growth. Many of the problems traverse metropolitan boundaries and in the Gulf Coast case cross multiple States. The problems are unlikely to be solved within individual jurisdictions. This is because metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) are largely constrained to their jurisdictional areas. Mobility demand in the megaregion cannot be well understood by simply summing up the numbers from individual metropolitan areas. A megaregion approach overcomes the limits that MPOs face.

Project Objectives:
The study aims at:
1. Understanding and projecting future mobility demand in the eleven megaregions in the US with a focused analysis on the Gulf Coast;

2. Informing MPOs and state transportation agencies on anticipated transportation issues that cross regional and state boundaries and therefore need collaborative efforts.

3. supporting the Texas-based research group to remain active in the frontline of national megaregion research and to contribute to the local (Region 6) missions to enhancing sustainable mobility and economic competitiveness.

Task Descriptions:
Task 1: Examine travel characteristics and trends in the eleven magaregions of the US:
The proposed research will first benchmark passenger travel characteristics, including shares of various travel modes (e.g., airplanes, private cars, bus and rail transit, and walk/bike et al), average and total trip length (in both distance and time), household costs in transportation, vehicle ownership, along with others. Next, the research will examine trends of these characteristics with use of multi-decade national travel surveys. Data needed for the research mainly comes from seven National Household Travel Surveys (NHTS) from 1969-2009. Additional datasets will be obtained from the Census Transportation Planning Package (CTPP) from the Census Bureau free of charge.

Task 2: Project future travel demand in the Gulf Coast megaregion:
Based on the study of national trend and projected growth in population, employment, and income, the study will project mobility demand measured by person miles of travel (PMT) for year 2050 in the Gulf Coast. The study will refine and extend the aggregate projection method applied to the study of the Texas Triangle. Mobility trends of inter-regional and rural-urban travel will be investigated further in the Gulf Coast Megaregion.

Task 3: Identify mobility challenges and explore supply strategies to meet the future demand for mobility:
Megaregions typically cover large geographies that require high-speed travel means to overcome spatial separation. Many Asian and European countries have been developing high-speed rail (HSR) to serve their megaregions. The proposed research will study and compare other strategies of high-speed travel, including air and telecommunications, aside from HSR. Given recent setback in HSR development in a number of States, exploring options for high-speed travel is particularly important to US megaregional transportation studies.

Task 4: Draw policy implications and propose planning strategies:
Finally, the research will offer recommendations for planning and policy-making for megaregional transportation development, with specific attentions to the Gulf Coast in conjunction with the Texas Triangle Megaregion.

Implementation of Research Outcomes:
This study developed an alternative approach to megaregional transportation planning based on forecasting future income and population growth.  It produced an aggregate technique to forecast future mobility demand, particularly the demand for high-speed travel (e.g., by the mode of airplane and high-speed rail).  It offers recommendations for planning and policy-making for megaregional transportation development (for both passenger and freight), with specific attention to the Gulf Coast Megaregion in conjunction with the Texas Triangle Megaregion. 

Impacts/Benefits of Implementation:
Results from this study provide improved transportation planning techniques that impact the urban and regional planning discipline.  Results will inform MPOs and state DOTs on improving transportation planning at the regional and state-wide levels.

Web Links:
Final Technical Report