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Land Committee concerned over Zilker Park lanes

Monday, April 20, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

In response to pushback from members of the Land, Facilities and Program Committee last week, engineers said they are open to reconsidering the placement of elevated express toll lanes proposed as part of a MoPac South expansion plan.

As the proposed plan stands, two elevated express lanes would start their rise north of Bee Caves Road, ascend over Zilker Park and Lady Bird Lake and drop drivers onto Cesar Chavez Street near downtown Austin. Sean Beal, an engineering manager with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, said at last Monday’s meeting this design offers commuters the safest and most efficient north-to-south connection.

However, committee members responded by echoing concerns from last month’s Parks and Recreation Board meeting: how would these elevated lanes affect visitors to Zilker Park down below?

“Such an elevated parkway would fundamentally change the nature of the experience in that park, which is the heart of Austin,” said committee member Lynn Osgood.

CTRMA representatives agreed.

“Zilker Park is something that is untouchable,” said Beal. “The park experience is something that we do not want to affect in any way or have an impact to that experience in any way.”

He said CTRMA is open to alternative suggestions on how to build the connection, and because of a federally mandated environmental study, the agency is required to demonstrate how these new roadways will alter noise levels over the next 20 years. The agency would give open spaces, such as Zilker Park, special consideration in the process.

Osgood urged CTRMA representatives to come up with a way to communicate the full impact of placing elevated roadways over a park.

“Some fair renderings of what that would look like standing in Zilker,” said Osgood. “Standing on the lawn, what would this look like? What would it sound like?”

Committee member Jane Rivera asked about the possibility of nixing the current plan altogether. “Does it have to go over that specific area?” asked the Parks Board Chair. “Could it avoid Zilker?”

Beal said these are ideas the state transportation organization is examining now, and were factors in its decision to extend the environmental study period into the fall and add another open house this August.

Despite saying that the plan requires much more discussion, committee members voted to add an action item to the Parks and Recreation Board’s April 28 agenda. They will consider then whether to recommend CTRMA’s current plan to City Council.


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