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Hundreds gather to sound off on MoPac plan

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

On Tuesday, several hundred Austinites crowded the cafeteria of Austin High School in order to weigh in on plans for MoPac Boulevard.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has proposed a $352.8 million project that would add four tolled express lanes to MoPac Boulevard from Cesar Chavez Street to Slaughter Lane and two raised lanes across Lady Bird Lake. That plan has faced considerable backlash from the community in recent months. On Monday, the CTRMA extended the comment and environmental study period.

As part of that input process, Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea organized last night’s forum, which featured presentations from CTRMA, local officials and Keep MoPac Local representative Bill Bunch, who spoke at length about his opposition to the plan.

Bunch said that the project was part of a planned loop that would transform MoPac from a local commuter highway to “Interstate 35, Alternative Route” when completed. Bunch pointed out that as a north-south route, MoPac is 9 miles shorter than IH-35 SH 130, and if it were connected, it would surely be used to traverse the city and make MoPac traffic worse, not better.

“There are some good mobility arguments to convert MoPac to I-35 West. We’ll concede that. But there are very powerful arguments to not do that. And this community deserves an honest analysis and a real voice in that decision-making process,” said Bunch.

Though the CTRMA withdrew an amendment to the CAMPO 2035 plan that would have allowed construction to move forward on the project in 2017, the four-lane toll road remains in the 2040 plan, which CAMPO will consider approving next month. If they do, and the project remains in the plan, construction could start in 2020.

Mario Espinoza, deputy executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, explained that the plan was separate from CTRMA, even though it dealt with the same project.

“In terms of what is going to be included in the plan — that is going to be up to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, not our organization. Our organization, while we develop and construct these projects, we don’t put them in any long-range plan,” said Espinoza.

The confluence of plans and acronyms left some people in the audience audibly frustrated and confused about what they should be weighing in on, and what impact it would have.

Melissa Schenker, who has a child at Austin High, said she felt they were being asked to give feedback on a “moving target” and worried about the effort it would take to keep track of the plan iterations, meetings and organizations considering changes to MoPac.

Shea assured the crowd that the process was not an April Fool’s joke, but just “a broken planning process.”

City Council Members Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen, Ellen Troxclair and Sheri Gallo, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, AISD trustee Amber Elenz and Rollingwood Mayor Thom Farrell were also in attendance.

CAMPO will hold the last public input meeting on its 2040 plan at 5:30 p.m. today at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road.

This story has been corrected.

Image courtesy of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

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