Thursday, October 20, 2016 by Jo Clifton

SOS loses bid for MoPac injunction

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel declined to issue a preliminary injunction that would have prevented the beginning of construction on State Highway 45 Southwest.

The judge ruled that the Save Our Springs Alliance and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit had failed to prove their case. He ruled that the toll road – which will connect the south end of the MoPac Expressway with FM 1626 – is not a “major federal action and is therefore not subject to the (National Environmental Policy Act’s) environmental impact statement requirement. Plaintiffs have failed to establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.”

The road will cross the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer recharge zone and includes woodland habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. The SOS Alliance – along with the Save Barton Creek Association and former Austin mayors Carole Keeton and Frank Cooksey – are concerned that when the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and its partner, the Texas Department of Transportation, begin clearing the proposed right-of-way, their actions will harm the warbler, the endangered Barton Springs salamander and the Austin blind salamander.

The highway agencies insist that the road will not harm those species. A press release from CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein stated, “The SH 45SW environmental study followed state and federal regulations as required, and we have created a plan that exceeds all required environmental elements as a reflection of our community values.”

The SOS Alliance released a statement that said, “While this is a significant setback, the case, and parallel efforts to keep MoPac from being converted into a second Interstate 35 through Austin and on top of Texas’ most vulnerable aquifer will continue. Plaintiffs will pursue this case to conclusion.”

The CTRMA plans to begin construction of the 3.6-mile toll road in November. Construction is expected to take three years to complete. The mobility authority noted that it awarded construction of the $78 million project to McCarthy Building Companies Inc. and that Hays and Travis counties have contributed $20 million toward the project. CTRMA and TxDOT plan to fund the remaining costs with toll revenue.

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Photo by Isaac Sanchez made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

CTRMA: The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. A governmental agency created, according to its web site, in 2002 to "improve the transportation system in Williamson and Travis counties." The site also notes that the agency's "mission is to implement innovative, multi-modal transportation solutions that reduce congestion and create transportation choices that enhance quality of life and economic vitality." In addition to other responsibilities, the agency oversees a set of toll roads in the region.

Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS): An advocacy organization. According to its web site, Save Our Springs "works to protect the Edwards Aquifer, its springs and contributing streams, and the natural and cultural heritage of the Hill Country region and its watersheds, with special emphasis on Barton Springs."

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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