|Tracking Transportation in Texas
From his UTSA office, the state demographer glimpses Texas' future
Mike Cline, a UTSA doctoral student and research scientist involved in the TxDOT project, believes demography has not been used to the extent possible in transportation decisions. While an engineer might incorporate total population figures into plans for a new road, a demographer might delve a little deeper, breaking those totals into subgroups and considering how they might change the big picture, he says.
A surprising array of factors can affect traffic patterns.
Take age: The elderly tend to drive fewer miles than
other motorists, Murdock says, but they have a greater need for transportation from home to health care. And accident
rates peak for teens and young adults, and then again for those who are 80 years old or older. So as Texas’ population ages,
accident rates could be affected.
Income also plays a role. People with lower incomes are more likely to carpool or use public transportation than wealthier people, and they are more likely to drive older cars. So a shift in income levels could affect the number of
vehicles on the road and the number of breakdowns.
The institute is getting its data for the TxDOT project from several sources. TxDOT itself provides detailed information on its highways and their use. The U.S. Census has
total population figures broken down by age, gender, race,
ethnicity, income levels and more, as well as information on commuting patterns. And the institute has its own population estimates and future projections for Texas.
The Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic
Research—which houses the Texas State Data Center and state demographer’s office—has never before worked with TxDOT, but it has done projects with a dozen or more state agencies,
the federal government and nonprofit groups.
At any given time, the institute juggles between six and eight research projects, in addition to academic research
and its ongoing work for the State of Texas, Murdock says.
The institute undertakes more than $1 million in research a year.
Among its recent projects:
• The institute is wrapping up the first year of a project with Methodist Healthcare Ministries, one that estimates the number of uninsured Texans for specific counties to help
in planning what services to provide. The second year will involve predicting the likely change in the number of obese people in specific areas of South Texas, as well as the number of people with diabetes.
• Murdock and his staff are finishing a project for the federal Economic Development Agency on how the growth and
decline of various manufacturing jobs has impacted communities in Texas and Arkansas. The United States has seen a net
loss of millions of such jobs, Murdock says. “What we’re trying to do is determine who was impacted how,” he adds.
• As part of the Texas State Data Center, the institute routinely does a series of current population estimates and future projections. The data produced is used by a range of people and organizations. Little League teams refer to the data when
drawing their boundary lines, Murdock says, and retail
businesses consider it when choosing sites for new stores.
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