Thursday, August 7, 2014 by Jo Clifton

TxDOT won’t withdraw draft of SH45 SW environmental study

The Texas Department of Transportation has refused to suspend or withdraw the draft environmental impact statement, called an EIS, for the roadway design of SH45 Southwest, as requested by Austin City Manager Marc Ott July 23.

In addition, TxDOT has declined to extend the period of time during which citizens can comment on construction of the disputed roadway, as Ott requested. The deadline for comment is Aug. 13.

Carlos Swonke, director of the Environmental Affairs Division of TxDOT, sent a brief letter to Ott Thursday outlining the department’s decision and rejecting the idea that TxDOT should suspend or withdraw the draft EIS.

“We’ve prepared the draft EIS to all required standards and have incorporated technical data that allows us not only to identify potential impacts, but to also develop detailed measures to mitigate and avoid sensitive resources.… (W)e will continue to take input and assimilate data before we reach a final decision,” Swonke wrote.

Of particular concern to environmentalists and to the city is the Flint Ridge Cave, which is protected under the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan. A city official who did not wish to be identified told the Austin Monitor that dye tests have shown water from the cave reaching to Barton Springs within three days. “The road passes over the drainage basin of the cave…a significant portion of the drainage basin would be in the path of the proposed road.”

In his letter to Swonke last month, Ott wrote that the conservation plan staff had recently conducted surveys for endangered bird species close to the proposed alignment of SH45 SW. In addition, he said, “the City of Austin has begun a study of the drainage basin for Flint Ridge Cave. Each of these studies is critical to determining the nature and extent of potential environmental impacts of SH45 Southwest to federally protected species, Edwards Aquifer groundwater, and city of Austin and BCCP preserve lands.”

Swonke responded in his letter that, “The locations and significance of karst features are known, allowing us to move forward with a preliminary roadway design and EIS at this time. A report from our consultant is expected later this month.”

Ott said via email, “The news is disappointing. As the assessment continues, we want to continue to be part of the process and will submit comments that will allow us to be part of their record.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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.

TxDOT: The transportation agency for the State of Texas.

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