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TxDOT, mobility agency get public input of MoPac traffic mitigation

Friday, December 3, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Solutions to MoPac’s southbound traffic gridlock are now down to four construction alternatives and a no-build option, as consultants continue to work toward a final environmental assessment to submit sometime next year.


The timeline must seem never-ending for the MoPac Neighborhood Associations Coalition, MoNAC, which has waited more than two decades for sound walls. Last night, about two dozen people showed up at Murchison Middle School for an update on the project, as did toll road opponents from Oak Hill, who fear that tolling MoPac will simply encourage similar efforts at the “Y” in Oak Hill.


Consultant John Kelly laid out a brief overview of the four alternatives: one high-occupancy vehicle lane in each direction, an express lane in each direction, one general-purpose lane added in each direction, or multiple lanes added in each direction. A no-build option is also on the table, Kelly told the group.


“We’ve going to now take the four build alternatives and the one no-build benchmark and do additional screening of those options against public input,” Kelly said. “For any of you that are here tonight, please tell any of your friends and neighbors about this, because we really need to hear from you to carry this forward in screening the options.”


The project, which could cost upwards of $250 million, stretches along MoPac from Parmer to downtown, with significant discussion still centered on how an HOV or special-purpose lane might funnel traffic onto downtown streets.


Last night’s open house, one of two this week, was sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. So far, the agencies have received about 100 comments about the pros and cons of the various proposals, and Kelly wants more going into the next phase. The comment phase will be open through Dec. 13.


Written comments not submitted at the open houses can be sent to TxDOT – Austin District, Environmental Coordinator, PO Box 15426, Austin, TX 78761-5426. Written comments must be received by Dec. 13 to be considered part of the record.


Much of the next year will be used to measure the project’s effects on the environment, from the actual physical environment to the adjacent neighborhoods to historic properties. Right of way and potential displacements will be considered in making a final choice on an alternative.


Noise mitigation, Kelly acknowledged, is a huge priority for the neighborhoods, and the project contractor intends to host a series of noise-mitigation workshops with local neighborhoods in either mid- or late-2011.


Local historic districts will be a significant part of the environmental review, Kelly said. Four existing districts along the corridor are currently recognized in the National Register of Historic Places. Under the Section 106 process, the contractor and agencies will weigh additional areas that might meet the criteria.


According to documentation provided at the open house, the National Register of Historic Places establishes criteria for the inclusion, and protection, of historic properties that demonstrate age and integrity as well as significance. To diminish such sites, either through damage or relocation, is considered an “adverse effect” under federal law.


The next steps in the MoPac project include a review of this week’s public input. Additional public input will be solicited next year, once more information is gathered through the environmental assessment.


Noise-mitigation workshops should occur mid-year, followed by a review of a draft environmental assessment document, with a final option to come in early fall. That document will be reviewed and corrected so that public hearings on a final option can occur in 2012, with a scheduled submission to federal authorities of the final environmental assessment and project choice in the summer of 2012.

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