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Travis pass-through moves forward amidst 45 SW complaints

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 by Jacob Cottingham

What could have been a routine item from Travis County commissioners on Tuesday turned into a lengthy discussion about the relative merits of road improvements along Brodie Lane and the future of State Highway 45 SW. Commissioners were set to approve resolutions to demonstrate “community support” for the three projects the county is submitting under the state’s pass-through financing mechanism.


The court had approved the applications on March 30 for projects along FM 1626 and south Manchaca Road in Pct. 3 and FM 973 in Pct. 1. However, Pam Baggett, a board member of the Shady Hollow Homeowners Association, came before the court with her group’s own resolutions and offered stiff opposition to the proposed package of road improvements.


These include widening FM 1626 from Brodie to Manchaca. The total costs for this would be $11.4 million for engineering, permitting, environmental clearance, right-of-way, and construction. Widening Manchaca (FM 2304) from FM 1626 to Ravenscroft would cost $7 million. Realigning and widening FM 973 from Braker Lane to US 290 east of Manor would total $51.482 million. The county would get roughly 90 percent back from TxDOT after fronting the costs.


Baggett said she represents 1400 homeowners in Shady Hollow but claimed to have the unofficial support of several other communities. These groups, she said, were “vehemently opposed to using county pass-through funds on these roads when that money could be used on SH45 SW.” She said an email to this effect was sent to Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber, and the response was that Huber “was sorry the neighbors were being misled by developers about the need for this road.” Baggett asked Huber to identify the developers.


Huber declined to answer in court but told In Fact Daily afterwards, “Land can always flip in the real estate community, so I’m not going to call developers out by name. There’s a parcel that’s available for commercial development and has been long talked about …at the intersection of 45 SW and 1626.”


Baggett continued to grill the court, asking, if “any transportation expert had suggested that extending SH45 linking MoPac and 1626 is no longer needed.” Judge Sam Biscoe took the question. “In fairness, there has been conflict in testimony opinions about that,” he said. “In my view the project that’s before us will hopefully relieve some of the congestion problem in Western Travis County. How much is difficult to say.” The judge did concede that the projects would provide some congestion relief but wouldn’t remedy the problem. Baggett kept pressing. “Does TNR really believe that is acceptable, 1626 to Manchaca to Slaughter, going through three school safety zones,” she asked.


She was told that county staff did not necessarily think that the improvements precluded the eventual construction of 45 SW, just that those improvements would run $80-100 million and these improvements were only $15 million. Biscoe told Baggett that the improvements would not prevent additional congestion but would slow its growth.


Biscoe had a few other reasons for moving forward. “When this came before us previously, I was left with the impression that because 1626 is being improved from Hays’ side of the line, it would exacerbate the situation.” He also cited the state reimbursement over 10-15 years. “I never thought our approval of this project would eliminate SH45 SW; the problem is elected officials voting on the area’s options from time to time, so you never can say what’s going to happen when a certain issue is presented to us or CAMPO.” The project’s submission deadline, next Tuesday, May 11, also factored into Biscoe’s thinking, he explained.


Baggett asked county staff, “Why is it more desirable to have traffic access MoPac via Slaughter than 45 SW?”


Later, Huber told In Fact Daily that her concerns for the road are due to several factors. At the top of that list, she said, were four concerns: 1) There haven’t been any completed studies saying the construction of 45 SW would alter traffic on Brodie; 2) the growth promoted by the construction would have an adverse impact on the Hays County water supply; 3) the tolls may not be affordable for lower-income families; and 4) there may be capacity issues with MoPac.


Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt explained that these projects were less costly than 45 SW.  She also expressed frustration at the state government’s role in transportation. “We have a finite amount of tax revenue from which to do our job, and it was never envisioned that local jurisdictions would have to pay for the state highway system,” she explained. “If we were to fund the state highway as well as jails, courts, county roads system – as well as the vast number of health and human service projects we do – basically we would not fund those other things which we are constitutionally and statutorily obligated to do; we would be building the state.”

Huber pointed out that Shady Hollow had only recently begun to work with the county. “Forty-five aside, this is one significant part of moving in the right direction … I would hope that your organization will be willing to continue to work with staff to solve or mitigate your problems before 45 is built, whenever it’s built. Forty-Five SW, regardless of how I feel about it, is a very complex moving project that has been tabled long before I ever came to office,” she told Baggett, “So you can go on a dream and hope 45 is built within five or six years and preclude other solutions, or you can work with us in the interim and help find solutions in the short term.”


For his part, Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis said the president of the Park Springs Neighborhood Association reported that his precinct was in full support of the 973 project and provided a letter of support from the city of Manor. Commissioners, minus an absent Margaret Gomez, voted unanimously in favor of the projects.

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