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Travis Commissioners compromise on route for SH 45 right of way

Thursday, July 7, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Travis County Commissioners Court has reached a compromise with Estancia Hill County developers, who came to court last week hoping to avoid setting aside land for future highway development in the area.


Estancia Hill Country could become the largest new development in the South I-35 corridor, with about 600 acres of mixed-use development envisioned. The land, purchased in 2007, was once part of Heep Ranch. The majority of the development will take place between I-35 and Old San Antonio Road at SH 45 Southeast toll road.


Developers objected to the request they reserve a 400-foot strip across the property in right-of-way for the proposed SH 45 South route.


SH 45 is intended to provide alternate routes, across new subdivisions, in an attempt to mitigate traffic snarls as the area develops. Steve Manilla, the executive in charge of Transportation and Natural Resources at the county, acknowledged that the road is a “magnet for controversy” in the area.


“There are some in the community that don’t want it built, there are some that are skeptical that it is ever going to be built, and there are some that definitely want it done. It will be interesting to see what prevails,” said Manilla.


Representatives for the development argued that the highway is not currently specified in the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization regional plan, and therefore the development should not be required to set aside land.


“Right now, 45 is only planned for study. It will not be built for many years, if ever, and we think it’s unreasonably burdensome for the owner to set aside and reserve indefinitely right-of-way for road that may never be built,” said Jeff Howard, a representative for the property owner.


Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt bristled at the notion the development did not have a need for the proposed highway that would pass through the development.


“We’ll just push off that issue for another day, I suppose, because again, I can’t stress this enough, this is our Brodie Lane problem all over again – bottlenecks on to one road, where we could have had a grid, but we were unable to require it,” said Eckhardt


“Well, bear in mind that when we develop our subdivision, we are required to provide roads that will serve our internal subdivision and we’re required to put roads in that are shown on the roadway plan,” said Howard. “We’re not under any obligation to connect I-35 to points east,”


“From a planning perspective, I hear what you are saying and this is often the case that subdivisions don’t want to connect to other subdivisions,” said Eckhardt, who worried that

“because they don’t connect (they) will be reliant on a small handful of roads the county will have to maintain and will be increasingly burdened over time because there is no connection between these subdivisions.”


As an alternative to waiving the right-of-way requirement entirely, developers proposed two other options.


The development could agree to set aside the requested right-of-way, for three years, and if the highway was not underway at that time, it would revert back to development land. Or, they asked that the court grant that the highway right-of-way take a different path across the development.


The court ultimately accepted the final option, in which a road, not the highway, will be built with enough land to be expanded into SH 45 and frontage roads, should it ever be built.


Following the public hearing, the Commissioners Court entered an executive session, after which they voted 5-0 in favor of the compromise, with a caveat that the vote was not an endorsement of SH 45 Southeast for CAMPO planning purposes.

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