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Funding to build State Highway 45 Southwest still in doubt

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

The plan to build State Highway 45 Southwest – that link between the existing terminus of SH 45 South and Loop 1 – has stalled.

County Judge Sam Biscoe was named to head a CAMPO-appointed task force on the SH 45 issue last March. Last night, Biscoe announced he had no resolution on the issue. Or, as Executive Director Joe Cantalupo clarified after the CAMPO meeting, the question to be resolved was not whether the road was necessary; it was whether the road could be funded.

Of course, even the topic of the road itself, much less its funding, is fraught with controversy. Many in the environmental community are opposed to the construction of SH 45 SW over ecologically sensitive land. But, faced with picking the best option, the task force did recommend a four-lane tolled parkway with no frontage roads. That choice, Biscoe said, would have two benefits: minimizing ecological damage and making the project more attractive to investors.

Funding, even under those circumstances, is iffy. Biscoe pegged the cost of the segment at $100 million. TxDOT, which once promised $15 million, is now only committed for $7 million. Even tolling wouldn’t be enough to underwrite that kind of construction, leaving Biscoe with one conclusion.

“In order to make it work, the jurisdictions that are going to benefit from this road are going to have to contribute or guarantee the debt on the road,” Biscoe said. “I have had the conversation with several members here, and I do not believe that there is the support for that project at this time.”

Community leader Vicki Goodwin, who spearheaded a petition effort in Shady Hollow and surrounding neighborhoods, said she was disappointed but not surprised with the verdict. Goodwin and her neighbors rallied at the corner of Kellywood and Brodie last Friday in support of the road. These neighbors, faced with increasing pressure from construction to the north and south, want to see some type of traffic relief for the south terminus of Brodie Lane.

Asked what her next step might be, Goodwin said she was uncertain. For now, all she could do was to continue the dialogue on the Brodie Lane issue.

“Some say we should once again ask to have Brodie Lane shut down at 1626 forcing Hays County residents to take Manchaca or some other alternative route,” Goodwin said. “Others say to continue to hold rallies on a monthly basis to keep this issue on the CAMPO radar.”

After the meeting, Biscoe said he didn’t see – at least, not yet – the political will to pony up $93 million, or some fraction thereof – to fund the SH 45 SW project. The individual governments that would benefit from it – Travis County, Hays County and the City of Austin – would have to step up and prioritize the project as important. That hasn’t happened yet.

“I know the residents will find that hard to take, and it’s difficult for me, but we have looked at a long list of options,” Biscoe assured the audience.

To consider even creating the four-lane tolled parkway – without a free alternative – would be counter to CAMPO’s traditional policies, which require a free alternative. That, in and of itself, would require a vote.

CAMPO could have taken a vote to dismiss the project entirely. Instead, Chair Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) moved to the next item on the agenda, leaving the question open to future discussion.

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