Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Roadwork may knock out oaks

February 12, 2013  

The “Taco Bell Oak” at Wm. Cannon and Hwy. 290 West


by Bobbie Jean Sawyer

AUSTIN –   The installation of continuous flow lanes at the intersection of 290 and William Cannon will probably result in the removal of some oak trees, most notably a prominent oak near the site of the former Taco Bell, which was located at William Cannon and 290. The announcement was made during a recent environmental workshop on the Oak Hill Parkway project, hosted by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) and TxDOT.

TxDOT public relations officer Kelli Reyna said while the removal of trees is a possibility, TxDOT is working to preserve every possible tree from the area in question, from William Cannon to Williamson Creek.

“Here at TxDOT we do recognize the importance of this issue and we’re trying to be proactive. We are working with our local partners to see how to save every possible tree,” Reyna said. “TxDOT trying to be environmentally sensitive is a huge concern of ours so we want to make sure that we continue to have an area that’s aesthetically pleasing to the citizens, that we have a good project and that people are happy with the end result. So we’re considering all of this when we move forward.”

Reyna said plans for the intersections have already been submitted, but there is a six month utility relocation delay that allows TxDOT additional time to work with local partners and look into salvaging the trees.

The continuous flow intersections, set to be constructed at the ‘Y’ and the intersection of 290 and William Cannon, are intended to relieve congested traffic in the short term by having traffic lanes face each other and allowing vehicles to turn simultaneously.

The workshop was intended to gather input from Oak Hill residents regarding their concerns about the environmental impact of a potential long-term redesign of the ‘Y’. Attendees were separated into small groups to discuss topics regarding endangered species, water quality, noise levels and archaeological and historical sites.

Beki Halpin, a Scenic Brook resident and member of Fix 290, a group dedicated to developing an environmentally friendly design at the ‘Y’ intersection, said the oak trees are one of her greatest environmental concerns.

“I think it’s important to save the old trees as our climate gets hotter and dryer. The old trees have a better chance of living because their roots are deeper,” Halpin said. “I don’t know how forthcoming they {CTRMA} can be because I don’t know how much they know about what they think they’re going to do.”

Halpin said she hopes project engineers can find a way to avoid removing the so-called “Taco Bell tree” in the way of the continuous flow intersection, but understands that the options are limited.

“It would be amazing if they could leave it, but they don’t intend to leave it, and I can see why. It’s just right there where they’d have to build the intersection,” Halpin said. “They’re really stuck between the cliff and the creek and the trees, trying to put in a functional highway.”

Tom Thayer, a member of Fix 290 and the Oak Hill Trails Association, said it’s likely the trees would’ve been removed in the design for the potential Oak Hill Parkway project.

“Whatever eventually gets put in, it’s going to be really hard to squeeze between them,” Thayer said. “I think there’s a really good chance that one was going to be going anyway on the final design.”

Halpin said another environmental concern is improving the water quality in Williamson Creek. “Right now everything runs off into the creek, so if they can do a good job of filtering the water off better that would be nice.”

Among the overall community impact concerns, the groups discussed the sites of historical and archaeological significance, such as the over a century-old building that houses the Austin Pizza Garden; and the Convict Hill cliff.

Halpin said her group also discussed the Dark Sky Initiative, which calls for the elimination of nighttime light pollution by installing lighting that casts light down rather than spreading it up into the sky.

“In our neighborhood plan, there was a lot of interest in the group in seeing the highway built in such a way that is in harmony with the Dark Sky Initiative,” Halpin said.

Larry Cox, of Cox McLain Environmental Consulting, addressed attendees on the issue of noise abatement.

“Noise is one of the big areas that potentially affects the community, your life. A noise study will be done for the roadway, for the alignment that is considered,” Maxwell said. “If a noise impact is identified, they’ll do a barrier analysis to try to determine whether a barrier would be reasonable.”

Cox said if a sizable noise impact is identified, the residents affected by the noise will be called into a workshop to determine if they want a noise wall constructed near their house.

Thayer said while he’s glad for the opportunity to voice his opinion, it’s difficult to determine what role community brainstorming will play in the final outcome.

“At this point we didn’t get a whole lot of feedback from them, so it’s a little early to tell how much they’re going to take into consideration as opposed to just checking off a box,” Thayer said. “That’s kind of the big concern, that they’re just doing it to check off a box. The federal highway administration says we have to get community concerns. How much will they actually listen versus just writing it down? Does it actually get addressed when the final design comes in?”

The next workshop will be held Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. at the ACC Pinnacle. The meeting is intended, not for the general public, but for small work groups made up of residents who have shown previous interest in local environmental and traffic issues.


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