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Travis County commissioners come out against State Highway 45

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Development in southwest Austin would proceed without the benefit (or curse) of State Highway 45 (SH45) if the Travis County Commissioners Court prevails. With a 3-1 vote, commissioners voted Tuesday to approve asking for removal of that stretch of road from both the 2035 CAMPO transportation plan and “all proposed funding from the CAMPO transportation improvement program.”


Commissioners Karen Huber, Ron Davis, and Sarah Eckhardt voted for the measure, with County Judge Sam Biscoe against. Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez remained absent with health issues. Huber, Eckhardt, and Biscoe all serve on the CAMPO board.


Despite the vote of the court, any removal of the project remains in doubt. As Eckhardt told In Fact Daily, “I don’t think the votes are there (at CAMPO) to take (SH45) out of the 2035 plan.”


What turned into a two-plus-hour hearing began with a statement from Huber, who brought the measure forward. “We need to be sure that as we grow and build our roads and our mobility systems that we are doing it responsibly,” she said, “and I believe that this particular proposed highway has many, many unanswered questions as it relates to, is it a responsible piece in our growth plan at this point in time.”


As pro and con partisans took their turns in front of the commissioners, a familiar pattern emerged: Residents in the Shady Hollow neighborhood and other pro-road parties urged the court to keep SH45 in their plans, arguing that it would help alleviate current and future congestion.


Opponents applauded Huber and the court for standing up to what they considered an ill-conceived project that would, they said, add to congestion and be harmful to the environment.


The debate was heated at times. Shady Hollow Homeowners Association Board Member Pam Baggett addressed Huber directly, asking her if she denied saying “during a fundraiser at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden that (she’d) get (her) road.”


Huber said that she didn’t recall that conversation. Baggett implied that this statement was contradictory to one that was published in that morning’s Statesman. There, Huber was quoted as saying of the promise, “(t)hey say I did, but I did not … I said, ‘You’re probably going to get your road.’ I don’t make promises until I have the information.’” 


Vikki Goodwin, also of the Shady Hollow Homeowners Association, brought up a series of issues, including whether or not growth would negatively affect the Hays County water supply. “Do you and do traffic planners make road-building decisions based on our water supply?” she asked Huber.


The commissioner fired back: “I don’t believe we do and I believe we should. With the limited resources we have, we should be looking at exactly where the water is and is not available in the future to make these decisions.”


After the meeting Huber told In Fact Daily that the proceedings had been difficult. “It’s always difficult when there’s adversity,” she said. “I’m one of those people who likes to make everybody happy. This is one of those situations where there’s no way to make everybody happy. At least right now.”


For his part, Davis started to look ahead at alternatives to 45. He noted that he supported the “improvements of 1626 and also 2304” but that he might also be in favor of revisiting the four-year-old proposal to close a portion of Brodie Lane to help with congestion.

He also brought up a recent development case where Huber had suggested that a developer put a remark in their subdivision’s plat notes about the availability of water. “Water is an issue and I recall several persons that have come here and testified, talking about the scarcity of water,” he said. 


Before delivering her support for the measure, Eckhardt made a statement of her own. “This decision is a very difficult one,” she said. “I’m very concerned about (it’s effect on) the collegiality of this court because this is clearly going to be a … split court one way or the other.”


“I’m also concerned with the collegiality at CAMPO because I believe that no matter what we do here today, that it is a very difficult row to hoe, taking 45 … out of the 2035 plan,” she continued.


Even so, she added, “We can’t build our way out of congestion, but we can plan our way out of stupid congestion. I think that to plan requires us to make some hard choices and to establish priorities, which I fear we are not doing at the MPO.”

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