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TxDOT defends SH45 SW environmental study

Thursday, April 23, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

At Tuesday’s Travis County Commissioners Court meeting, TxDOT’s Carlos Swonke defended his department’s work on State Highway 45 Southwest’s environment impact study. Swonke, the Texas Department of Transportation’s Environmental Affairs Division director, said top scientists helped put together the findings, and he believed their efforts were on par with federal studies. In public testimony, Swonke presented a three-pronged argument to commissioners. He said the city and county enacted the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan with the expectation that SH45 SW would eventually cut through the land. He pointed out that they approved the BCCP in 1996, but the SH45 SW project was approved in 1989. Swonke also argued that TxDOT’s use of modern environmental road improvements on SH45 SW would have less of an effect on the Edwards Aquifer than if it funneled traffic through older roadways. Citing past City of Austin projects involving BCCP caves, Swonke said, “No one has shown us any evidence that anything bad happens to a cave when you build a road 350 feet away from it,” referring to the distance SH45 SW would be away from the federally protected Flint Ridge Cave. Pct. 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea asked if the SH45 SW’s environmental impact study took the proposed connection to I-35 into account, or the recent addition of four toll lanes in the MoPac South project. Swonke said they did not mention I-35 in the study because it is not yet formally approved. He said he did not remember if the EIS included two or four toll lanes on the MoPac South project. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt pointed out several flaws in Swonke’s arguments. An advocate of SH 45 SW, Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said the issues now are really about “just not building this road.”

 

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