by Ann Fowler
Vikki Goodwin (above), who lives in Shady Hollow, represents many of her neighbors, and deals with the ever-growing traffic problem on Brodie Lane on a daily basis, gained the support last week of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN) in a resolution asking the Travis County Commissioners to put State Highway 45 Southwest on the agenda in 2011 and allow “citizen input on the matter.”
On September 27, Hays County Commissioners suggested a solution for Travis County homeowners seeking relief from commuter traffic on Brodie Lane: downsize the state’s planned four to six-lane State Highway 45 Southwest (SH 45 SW) toll road to a smaller, less expensive county road.
The road is important to Hays County because many of the commuters that currently clog Brodie Lane during rush hour are from Hays.
The change in road design would slash the construction price tag from $92 million to $20 million, and would result in a similar reduction in construction time. Hays County offered to pay $5 million, and in a resolution asked the Travis County Commissioners to respond within 60 days.
Fifty days later, the Travis County Commissioners have yet to address the suggestion in any of their weekly meetings. The very government body that assured Brodie Lane homeowners five years ago that SH 45 SW would resolve their traffic woes has switched gears, voting last year to withdraw support of its construction.
Residents had hoped that the county, which found $6 million to widen a two-lane road for the planned Formula One racetrack, would quickly fund what they believe is a much-needed road. But the matter pits those who have been promised relief from traffic congestion against environmentalists who have fought the roadway since its inception because they believe the area is too sensitive to withstand such a major roadway.
The history of SH 45 goes back 25 years, when the Texas Transportation Commission voted in 1985 to create State Highway 45 to loop around Austin. Some of the segments have been completed, but the envisioned loop has never come to fruition. SH 45 SW would be a 3-mile stretch to connect Mopac with FM 1626.
The right-of-way (ROW) for the roadway has already been funded by Travis County bonds. The ROW was given to TxDOT for the planned state road. Now, according to Goodwin, the Travis County Commissioners are waiting for TxDOT to complete a study on the feasibility of returning the ROW to the county. That study will not be ready until January — past Hays County’s requested deadline.
While several environmental groups believe the road would cause irreversible damage to the area, others point out that the air pollution caused by cars stopped in traffic along Brodie hurts the environment as well. Initially the project ended up in court, where a consent decree in 1990 between environmentalists and TxDOT agreed to allow a parkway-style road. TxDOT planned a 4-lane tollway with two free lanes, but opponents feared traffic would bypass the tolled lanes, making it a fiscally unsound project for investors.
A Task Force created by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) in 2009 to study the project were advised of a 285% growth rate in northern Hays County by 2040, with 40 percent of Hays County workers heading to work in Travis County. For many, the route is FM 1626 to Brodie Lane to Slaughter Lane to Mopac. SH 45 SW would give these commuters a more direct route to work.
CAMPO executive director Joe Cantalupo told the group that a traffic study completed for the 2030 Mobility Plan projected a 123% increase in traffic on Brodie Lane south of Slaughter if SH 45 SW was not built. The traffic increase with the new road would be 104%.
Several environmental groups have banded together to create a group called Keep Mopac Local, categorizing Mopac as a “local commuter highway” — although Hays County commuters might dispute that description of Mopac — more formally known as State Highway Loop One.
The 2009 Task Force discussed the traffic and environmental issues and determined that a need existed for the roadway. A year later Travis County pulled its support of the roadway because Precinct 3 Commissioner Karen Huber, who represents the affected area and served on the CAMPO Task Force, said the county had other more pressing transportation issues. While the proposed road remains on CAMPO’s project list, its priority is low.
Goodwin hopes that encouraging a discussion of the subject will spur action on much needed relief for those who live on Brodie Lane. At the very least she believes the resolution by OHAN and the Shady Hollow Homeowners Association will not allow the Travis County Commissioners to “sweep it under the rug.”