Wednesday, October 23, 2013 by Mark Richardson

Travis Commissioners finally endorse SH45 SW

Many of the same Austinites made the same arguments they’ve made for decades, but this time, the result was different. At the behest of Pct. 3’s Gerald Daugherty, the Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday endorsed construction of the controversial SH45 Southwest roadway.


Just three years ago, a somewhat different group of Travis County Commissioners voted to oppose the project, a 3.6-mile-long, four-lane toll road that would connect South MoPac Boulevard to FM 1626. 


Backers of the roadway plan who spoke Tuesday were mostly from the Shady Hollow neighborhood in far South Austin. Residents there say they daily endure a massive volume of traffic through their neighborhood on Brodie Lane, which was never designed to be a regional feeder to MoPac.


“We certainly appreciate your putting this train back on the tracks,” said Carol Vance, president of the Shady Hollow Homeowners Association. “It has been a long trip for everybody and I hope this is the last derailment that we have and we can finally get this road built.”


She was joined by about a dozen other Shady Hollow residents, many of whom have waited more than 24 years for the road to be built, only to have their hopes dashed on several occasions with delays, funding problems and lawsuits. Some of them have attended dozens of similar meetings about the future of SH45 SW in the past, only to have the project delayed.


Representatives of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Real Estate Council of Austin also spoke in favor of the roadway, saying further delay in building it would continue to hamper economic growth in the region.


But a group representing a number of environmental organizations also brought their case back the court Tuesday, with the message that the roadway represents a threat to the Barton Springs Recharge Zone of the Edwards Aquifer. 


Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, spoke for the group, saying that in addition to harming the environment, the roadway would not serve its intended purpose.


“The environmental community has been opposing this road since the late 1980s, when it was part of the Outer Loop,” he said. “We have often heard that road has been planned all along, but it was never planned for MoPac to be the western Outer Loop, and that’s what you’re moving towards here. We need facts to matter and we need transparency in this debate.”


Other groups such as Save Barton Creek and the Sierra Club also spoke against the project, as did three candidates who have announced to run for positions on the Court in 2014. Brigid Shea, a candidate for the Pct. 2 seat, as well as County Judge candidates Andy Brown and Sarah Eckhardt.


“I don’t think we should sacrifice our natural beauty, air and water quality, biodiversity, and neighborhood character to build SH45 SW,” said Eckhardt. “But it seems likely, based on the makeup of CAMPO and the current makeup of this Court, that 45 SW will be built. I implore you as a court to demand of TxDOT and the CTRMA that the roadway set the bar for environmentally sensitive and contextual design so that the degradation of air and water quality is held to an absolute minimum, and local treasures like Flint Ridge Cave and the Wildflower Center remain protected.”


But in the end, Commissioners vote 4-0 to re-endorse the project. Daugherty, Pct. 2’s Bruce Todd and County Judge Sam Biscoe were joined in something of a surprise by Pct. 4’s Margaret Gómez, who has opposed the project in the past. Pct. 1’s Ron Davis was absent. Daugherty said he had told him he would hold off on the resolution until he returned on Oct. 29, but he said Davis declined.


But Tuesday’s vote might not hold up long enough to help get the road built. By 2015, at least two of the “yes” votes – Biscoe and Todd – will be off the court and replaced by candidates who on Tuesday vowed to oppose it. Though Davis’ vote cannot be taken for granted, he has opposed SH45 SW in the past and could help form another majority against it.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Barton Springs Recharge Zone: a region from where groundwater funnels into Barton Springs. Includes land around Williamson, Bear, Little Bear, and Onion creeks.

CAMPO: The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is the regional planning organization for Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson Counties. Its membership is drawn from the elected officials of those municipalities, as well as various cities that fall within the region, including the City of Austin. CAMPO's focus is on regional transportation issues.

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

Gerald Daugherty: Current Travis County Pct. 3 Commissioner. Daugherty was unseated in 2008 by Karen Huber. He returned the favor in 2013, when he ran on a platform nearly entirely focused on a promise to build the controversial SH45 Southwest road project.

Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce: The Austin Chamber of Commerce is a private, membership-driven organization that includes 3,000 businesses, civic organizations, educational institutions, and individuals. According to the chamber's website, "Its mission is to provide leadership that facilitates the creation of a prosperous regional economy and effective advocacy for its members."

Real Estate Council of Austin: 501(c)6 for "more than 1,700 commercial real estate professionals representing the top leaders in the Central Texas business community." RECA is a donor to the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent of the Austin Monitor.

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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