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Travis Commissioners finally endorse SH45 SW

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 by Mark Richardson

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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