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CAMPO delays SH 45

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (CAMPO)Transportation Policy Board took the State Highway 45 Southwest project out of the current three-year road project plan, but the delay is only temporary, Chair Sen. Kirk Watson told the board last night.


The board approved a number of amendments to the TIP last night – all of them vetted in community meetings and a hearing last week — but the only project that actually drew discussion was the controversial SH 45 SW.


The logic of taking State Highway 45 Southwest out of the plan, as County Judge Sam Biscoe explained it, was that it could not be completed in the next three years. The right-of-way had been purchased. Voters had approved bonds. A total of $6 million was in the TIP to pay for initial construction engineering and construction.


But it’s not enough to build the road right now. The Texas Department of Transportation could not provide the $70 million to build the four-lane – likely to be tolled – parkway.


It just made sense to pull the project from the plan until the project had available revenues, Biscoe said.


What made the vote somewhat ironic was the fact that Commissioner Karen Huber argued – and voted – against the motion. The project was in her district. Huber campaigned against incumbent Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, the well-known toll warrior, as a candidate who would protect the environment and put environmental issues first.


In reality, however, Huber was faced with both the wishes of her constituents and the reality of the need for SH 45 in her district.


To take SH 45 out of the TIP would be a significant step in the wrong direction, Huber said. The southwest Travis County project has a 20-year history, Huber told the board, and a route was approved in 1990 under a settlement agreement intended to be the least environmentally problematic. As a limited-access parkway through the area, it would have controlled access, point-to-point, and its construction had been supported by county voters.


Huber added that Hays County had punched through an extension of Brodie Lane, making it even more of an imperative to get SH 45 SW built.


“With the reality of the congestion down there, we just can’t let this problem continue,” Huber told her colleagues on the board. “I really believe (this vote) is a very significant step in the wrong direction.”


Huber had wanted to offer an amendment that would set up some kind of working group to consider an alternative to SH 45, but Watson assured the board that he, as chairman, would convene such a group.

This option, Watson told the group, actually could be an advantage. This project might be completely different than what it was originally conceptualized, Watson said, but that might be the right thing. With the right group – one with both board members and stakeholders – this could be an even better project than originally envisioned, Watson said.


Huber did end up being the one attending CAMPO member who voted against taking the project out of the TIP. None of the Austin representatives – Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Lee Leffingwell, Brewster McCracken and Sheryl Cole – were present. Leffingwell, McCracken and Cole were attending an endorsement forum scheduled at the same time.


Other decisions included approving additional funds for CAMPO modeling and approval for projects on Howard Lane and FM 3177. The three expenditures generally were supported by those polled on the project.


In other CAMPO news, the board went into executive session to discuss the performance of the executive director. After a discussion of new methods of CAMPO getting out its message – through social media links such as Twitter and Facebook – as well as the willingness to have a peer review of its traffic model, Watson said the board was pleased with Executive Director Joe Cantalupo’s performance. And while they would not act in any way on a new salary, Watson said the response of the board to the work that Cantalupo has done for CAMPO has been positive.

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