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Can the Triangle Manage Growth Without Limiting It?

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AUSTIN, TEXAS — As the Triangle grows, so do the problems of managing growth without smothering progress.

Other regions have faced the same growing pains, and perhaps the Triangle can learn from a city that has developed under very similar circumstances. It is a state capital with a major university at its core, computer companies all around and a desire to be the shining star of Texas.

From the "good news" to good blues,Austin, Texas, is a sun-belt capital known for its music, its football muscle and its money - a powerful combination.

"There are more jobs here than people to fill the jobs," says Austin businessman Neal Spelce. "So everyone's walking around with bucks in their jeans, and they're spending their money."

Spelce publishes a business newsletter in Austin. He has also anchored the evening news there for 30 years. After dark, he watches 6th street become a neon rainbow with dozens of restaurants and lounges packed with people doing more than the Texas-Two-Step.

"This street is becoming a mini-Bourbon Street with restaurants, clubs and bars," Spelce said.

In the shadow of the capitol dome, downtown Austin is a shining star that is successful, but like the Triangle, not without its problems.

"Austin has not handled its growth in a model way, but it's handled it," Spelce said.

Traffic can always be a tough problem to tackle, but even at the height of rush hour, traffic moves steadily.

"Everybody seems to be focusing on the same goals," saysAustin Mayor Kirk Watson.

The mayor credits progress to innovative planning. Their addition of a two tier section of interstate keeps traffic flowing on what NAFTA has called the busiest stretch of I-35 between Mexico and Canada.

Away from Austin's version of the beltline are other geographic parameters called a "desired development zone" and the "drinking water protection zone."

"We've recognized in Austin our quality of life and our environment plays a substantial role in our economic development," Watson said.

Development in Austin includes high-tech business centers, computer giants and houses by the dozens with price tags starting at $1 million.

Austin's population boom shows no sign of slowing. To help with the growing pains, they are building a new airport, which will double the size of the current location. When Bergstron Air Force Base was closed, the city saw opportunity.

The building of any airport is impressive, but the people of Austin are impressed for a different reason, and they say it is an example of how government has worked to manage, but not limit, growth. The plan is a major government project, three quarters of a billion dollars, and so far it is on schedule and under budget.

That scenario is almost unheard of. Growth problems in the Texas capital are very similar to North Carolina's, and the mayor of the booming area had one solid piece of advice for our leaders.

"Establish a clear vision of what you wish to achieve and then be fair and thoughtful, but have a sense of urgency about achieving it," Watson said.

Austin's heavily used city bus service plays a big role in mass transit. A light rail is being considered, but so far the public has refused to fund it.

The city is also known for raising environmental standards. There are clean water zones and no building zones throughout the area including 14,000 acres that cannot be built on unless the public changes its mind.

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David Crabtree, Reporter
Keith Baker, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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