Stevie Greathouse, principal planner for the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) shows Shady Hollow resident Betty Brown the proposed right of way for State Highway 45 SW. CAMPO is holding three open houses to acquaint residents with highway plans in their area.
By Bobbie Jean Sawyer
Along the highly congested Brodie Lane, among picturesque houses and well-manicured yards, there are signs of a familiar battle brewing again. The signs, which convey one straightforward demand: ‘SH45: Build It Now,’ are a symbol of both the frustration of Shady Hollow dwellers and the contention between SH 45 Southwest supporters and concerned environmentalists, who fear the proposed road would damage the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer area.
Tension between the two sides has only heightened since the Austin City Council requested that the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) board remove SH 45 Southwest, a proposed 3.6-mile stretch of road that would connect MoPac with FM 1626, from their long-range transportation plan, which would block the current in-progress environmental impact study and any potential future development of the highway.
About 30 residents attended the community meeting hosted by CAMPO staff Monday night at Baranoff Elementary (in Shady Hollow) to ask questions and voice their opinion on the proposed amendment to nix SH 45 Southwest. CAMPO’s transportation policy board, made up of 19 elected and appointed officials from throughout the five-county CAMPO region, are set to vote on the amendment on October 8.
The scheduled vote comes on the heels of a retracted CAMPO study, which sought to determine demand on the region’s transportation area based on factors such as employment location, population increases and land use changes, but was pulled due to what CAMPO director Maureen McCoy described as “fundamental flaws” in the organization’s output.
McCoy said CAMPO’s modeling staff is reassessing the data but she’s unsure of when the project will be completed and what effect, if any, it will have on the board’s decision to vote on the amendment.
“It’s information that board members may use and I think a lot of them are looking forward to it. What weight that has for each individual board member, I’m not sure,” McCoy said. “They could either consider the amendment and approve or disapprove it. They could postpone it. The city of Austin could withdraw it temporarily. I just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Russ Downey, a Shady Hollow resident and traffic committee chairman for the Shady Hollow Homeowner’s Association, said he hopes the board waits to see all the information before making a decision.
“To me, they need to postpone their vote until at least they’ve had a chance to see what the study comes up with and the public has a chance to see the study and give their additional input,” Downey said.
Downey, who lives on the west side of Brodie, said Brodie Lane isn’t equipped for the current level of traffic and building SH 45 Southwest is a necessity.
“Traffic has picked up so much on Brodie in the last couple of years because of traffic coming up from north Hays and from southern Travis county,” Downey said. “Brodie was never designed to be an arterial. It used to dead end in Shady Hollow. Then it was extended and now we’ve got people coming through. We’ve got more development going south and the traffic is just getting tremendous.”
Downey said he shares environmentalists’ concerns about preserving the region, but believes the road can be built with minimal impact on the aquifer.
“Yes, it is an environmentally-sensitive area. But no, it’s not impossible to build a road and not impact, adversely, the environment,” Downey said. “It may not be as cheap as building a straight road but you can go out there and put the technology to work and get it to where the runoff is as clean as it is right now.”
Downey pointed to the section of SH 45 connecting MoPac to FM 1826 as an example of a roadway with little negative impact on the ecological region.
“Building that and building Circle C did not ruin Barton Springs,” Downey said.
But Ira Yates, a lifelong Brodie Lane area resident, said, in his experience, building new roads to alleviate traffic is the wrong move.
“I’ve seen roads built to relieve traffic and ultimately the traffic is never relieved,” Yates said. “What I’d like to see is no connection of the I-35 corridor to the south end of MoPac. I don’t want that to happen. It will squeeze off all the traffic coming from western Hays and Travis counties with no solutions in sight.”
Yates said the idea of a green road is a fallacy.
“There are no green roads,” Yates said. “It’s the bulldozers, the rock saws, the earth moving equipment moving for three and a half miles, tearing up the surface that we’re paying five dollars a square foot to protect somewhere else a half a mile away. The geology is changed. The entire vegetation is changed. It’s never the same. It’s not green at all.”
Yates said, in addition to expanding Manchaca Road and improving the roadway connecting FM 1626 to I-35, there’s a more cost-effective and environmentally safe solution to the seemingly endless traffic dilemma: the Lone Star Rail, a proposed commuter rail service running from Austin to San Antonio with stops in Kyle and Buda.
“We need to have mass transit from Buda to Kyle to downtown so that people can get on there and ride right downtown,” Yates said. “If you subsidize this highway going over to MoPac you take the ridership off of the rail. That’s $90 million to subsidize automobiles. We could be putting that kind of money elsewhere.”
Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance and outspoken opponent of SH 45 Southwest, said building the road would impact 300 research features, such as several significant caves, according to TxDOT maps.
“There’s no such thing as a green highway over the state’s most vulnerable water supply aquifer,” Bunch said. “You’re going to be paving over those caves and sinkholes and have polluted runoff and automobile drippings. It’s going to wash straight off into the aquifer and flow north to Barton Springs and to drinking water wells at Sunset Valley along the way.”
Bunch proposes adding turn lanes at key intersections on Brodie Lane and improving Manchaca Road and FM 1626 so that the roads may be used as alternative routes.
D.J. Cardamone, a Shady Hollow resident, said the proposed expansion to Brodie Lane is unacceptable.
“They want to put a four-lane, like a freeway, through our neighborhood,” Cardamone said. “You’d just have to put more stop lights in and you’d have more stop and go traffic. That’s polluting our neighborhood.”
In addition to exhaust pollution, Cardamone said driving—even leaving her own driveway—has become a risk in itself.
“It’s dangerous. People are getting hurt just trying to pull into traffic,” Cardamone said. “It’s only going to get worse if we don’t do something about it.”
Richard Pope has been struggling with Brodie Lane’s traffic issues for over a decade.
“When I bought my house in year 2000 I was told by a realtor, ‘Don’t worry about the traffic. In the next five years there’s going to be a road that’s going to take all this traffic off of Brodie,’ which is one of the reasons why we went ahead and bought the house.”
After 12 years, Pope is determined to see the project completed and not derailed by the upcoming vote.
“The bottom line is the city has nothing to do with this and we’ve got to let CAMPO know: do not let the city talk us into something we don’t want,” Pope said. “We’ve got to talk to all the board members and tell them, each one of them, do not let the city influence what we, the county residents, want in this county highway.”
The public comment period closes on September 27 at 5 p.m. To fill out the CAMPO Amendments Survey, visit www.campotexas.org.
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