Tuesday, October 22, 2013 by Mark Richardson

Despite opposition, Daugherty aiming to get SH45SW back on track today

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty hopes to take a major step today to get his fellow Commissioners to endorse building the controversial SH45 Southwest roadway between South MoPac Boulevard and FM 1626. The roadway has been in the planning stages for almost 30 years, but has faced repeated roadblocks and delays.

 

The major issue so far to getting the 3.6-mile toll road built has been that it would cut through the sensitive recharge zone of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. That has drawn stiff opposition from environmental groups such as the Save Our Springs Alliance and the Sierra Club.

 

Daugherty, whose Precinct 3 encompasses the area in which the roadway would be built, was an early supporter of SH45 SW when he was first elected to Commissioner’s Court in 2002. After being defeated by Democrat Karen Huber in 2008, he campaigned last year on the issue of reviving the project. His constituents say the roadway, which is likely to be a four-lane toll road, is badly needed to relieve traffic congestion in southern Travis County.

 

The Commissioners Court, led by then Pct. 3 Commissioner Huber, voted in 2010 to oppose the project on mostly environmental grounds. But the roadway’s biggest opponents, Huber and Sarah Eckhart, are no longer on the court. Huber lost her seat last year to Daugherty, and Eckhardt resigned in May to run for County Judge, replaced by Bruce Todd. Todd, along with a yes vote from County Judge Sam Biscoe, would appear to give Daugherty the three votes he needs to put SH45 SW back on the front burner.

 

However, that swing vote is likely to change after the next election in 2014. Both of the major Democratic candidates running to replace Biscoe are on the record as opposing the roadway.

 

Eckhardt, of course, was part of the coalition that opposed the project in 2010. She said she is not convinced that the roadway can be built and still preserve the caves and other karst features over the aquifer.

 

“The roadway will mostly benefit Hays County,” she said. “I don’t think we need to spend that much money on something that will not benefit the people in Travis County all that much. It’s too big of a risk.”

 

Her opponent, Andy Brown, was also adamant in his opposition.

 

“I don’t support it,” he said. “It doesn’t solve the problem of traffic in the area, and it’s potential harm to the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs. Plus, if they do build it as a toll road, there’s no guarantee that people will not continue to use Brodie Lane as a free alternative.”

 

The most likely configuration, if the roadway is built beginning in 2015, the year Daugherty is hoping for, would be a four-lane, limited access toll road with entrances and exits at its beginning and end, but no off ramps or cross streets in between. That project is expected to cost about $75 million and would be built by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. Another option, though considered less likely, would be to construct a two-lane road with a center turn lane, with funding shared by Travis and Hays counties. 

 

SH45 Southwest has a long and somewhat tortured history over the past 24 years. It was part of the original SH45 Outer Parkway approved in 1985 by the Texas Transportation Commission. The Outer Parkway was designed to be a wide loop around the entire Austin area. Most of that – including SH45 and SH130 – have been built as toll roads in the metro Austin area.

 

But the battle over the final stretch – SH45 SW – is still being fought. TxDOT has deemed the roadway “ready for construction to begin” on several occasions over the past 29 years, as early as 1989 and as recently as 2006. Despite opposition from several quarters, the project is still on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2035 Transportation Plan.

 

A vote to endorse SH45 SW by Travis County Commissioners will not guarantee that the roadway will get built, but it would be one more step for Daugherty’s plan to eventually get the project done.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

2035 CAMPO Transportation Plan: A regional transportation plan looking at future development in Central Texas through 2035. One of a series of such plans, it also led to Project Connect, and a 2014 City of Austin mobility bond.

CTRMA: The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. A governmental agency created, according to its web site, in 2002 to "improve the transportation system in Williamson and Travis counties." The site also notes that the agency's "mission is to implement innovative, multi-modal transportation solutions that reduce congestion and create transportation choices that enhance quality of life and economic vitality." In addition to other responsibilities, the agency oversees a set of toll roads in the region.

Edwards Aquifer: This groundwater region extends from Travis south to Bexar, and then west to Edwards and Kinney counties in Texas.

Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS): An advocacy organization. According to its web site, Save Our Springs "works to protect the Edwards Aquifer, its springs and contributing streams, and the natural and cultural heritage of the Hill Country region and its watersheds, with special emphasis on Barton Springs."

SH45SW: A controversial road project that supporters argue would ease traffic traveling through areas of far Southwest Travis and far Southeastern Hays County. Opponents argue that the environmental impact of the effort, which runs close to sensitive land, is not worth that risk. The debate over the issue goes back as far as the mid-1980s.

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