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South Austin residents push CAMPO to fund completion of SH 45 SW

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Discussion of the CAMPO 2035 plan at last night’s Transportation Policy Board hearing focused almost exclusively on State Highway 45 Southwest, with some South Austin residents demanding that the planning agency halt the delays and build the road.


The lines were clearly drawn at last week’s Travis County Commissioners Court, when court members squared off with homeowner Pamela Baggett over construction of the highway connecting far South Austin to I-35 and SH 130 over portions of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.


Baggett and fellow homeowners along Brodie Lane fought to open Brodie out to Hays County, and made it clear that this, too, will be another fight for better access beyond their neighborhood. The road was proposed, voters approved buying frontage for it in 1997, and the time has come for county leaders to deliver on their promises, residents said.


Environmentalists, who were in surprisingly small numbers last night, consider the SH 45 SW project unnecessary on a number of grounds echoed by Commissioner Karen Huber last week: The connection between FM 1626 and MoPac Boulevard would overburden MoPac, which already is slated to be well over capacity in the 2035 plan.


No study has been completed that provides definitive proof that SH 45 SW is the answer to relief on Brodie Lane. And much of the land around the road extension can never be developed because of its relationships to environmentally sensitive land, raising the issue as to viability.


Dianne Wassenich of the San Marcos River Foundation was eloquent in her defense of the Barton Creek Watershed, noting the health of the San Marcos River depended on the Barton Springs recharge zone. Wassenich said development in the immediate area of the road was unlikely.


“The peculiar condition of this area is that it’s almost impossible for someone to develop there,” Wassenich said. “You cannot drill wells in the area, and unless the city wants to provide water, this area will not develop and there will not be a big road. We’ve allowed other roads to happen, even over the recharge zone, like the Wonderland extension, because we understand this compromise would allow us to protect the headwaters of the San Marcos River.”


As shocked as Wassenich was about the project, Hays County Commissioner Will Conley was apologetic for not having Hays County on board, and sooner, to get the road constructed. Conley apologized for failures in Hays County that killed a 2007 proposal for pass-through financing and promised a more cohesive and supportive Hays County effort for new road construction.


Members of the Transportation Policy Board did not discuss the plan, although Huber thanked the speakers for their attendance. As to other comments, Mary Anderson was there to protest the tolling of roads. A provision of principle on the plan to use toll road revenues for system financing earned mixed, and less than definitive, reviews from attendees.


Rail critic Jim Skaggs was on hand to protest the shift in CAMPO 2035 plan funding toward transit, noting that transit numbers had gone down in recent years, but the financial commitment to transit projects continues to go up. Transit-related funding is 50 percent, up from 30 percent in the last plan.


“We may not be able to fund things that we have in the past, but we must be sustainable and cost effective with the money we have,” Skaggs said, noting that transit commuters were being subsidized at $30,000 per year. “That’s the epitome of the least cost-effective and unsustainable plan we could do. That is where this plan will take us, spending 50 percent on transit and not on improving our overall transportation.”


Travis County Commissioners have a hearing on SH 45 SW scheduled for this afternoon. A preliminary vote on the CAMPO 2035 plan is scheduled for the Transportation Policy Board meeting on May 24.

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