Tuesday, February 7, 2023

City Council wants a Fix290 Parkway option from TxDOT

September 9, 2014  

by Bobbie Jean Sawyer

AUSTIN –  The Austin City Council has passed a resolution requesting that TxDOT include a non-tolled, non-elevated alternative with minimal frontage roads as an option under the Oak Hill Parkway Environmental Impact Study. The resolution asks that TxDOT consider the ground-level parkway option throughout the final design phase.

The resolution is a victory for Fix 290, a grassroots community organization advocating a non-elevated option. Last year, members of Fix 290 worked with TxDOT engineers to develop Alternative F, an option calling for a non-tolled parkway with minimal concrete and frontage roads. However, Alternative F was not recommended for advancement to the design phase by engineers. Engineers selected to advance Alternative A, which includes depressed U.S. 290 mainlanes under SH-71, and Concept C, which favors U.S. 290 mainlanes north of Williamson creek with direct connector ramps.

Carol Cespedes, spokesperson for Fix 290, said the resolution went beyond the coalition’s expectations.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” said Cespedes. “It went just a tad beyond what we had been anticipating in recommending the minimal frontage roads.”

Cespedes said Fix 290 believes taking more time to explore a more environmentally-friendly approach will help the project to avoid snags later on.

“We think it’s important to have the best possible highway,” Cespedes said. “In fact it may be that by meeting superior environmental criteria, which we are determined to do, we will in fact expedite the approval. There will be fewer questions down the line.”

Cespedes said the upcoming election season would provide further opportunity to gauge the response of Oak Hill neighborhoods to a non-elevated parkway alternative.

“We’re just really surprised at the strength of the opposition to this. It seems to us that everybody would like something that helps neighborhood connectivity and is good for the environment,” Cespedes said. ” We’re going to be going into a season of candidate forums, and this information will be coming out. In a couple of weeks we’ll be finding out whether Alternative F or something closer to a parkway is moved back into the mix.”

Cespedes said the heart of Fix 290’s vision for the Oak Hill Parkway lies in providing direct neighborhood access to the highway.

“These neighborhoods in the ‘Y’ of Oak Hill depend on the highways for access anywhere,” Cespedes said. “We have no grid system. If we don’t have good use of those highways then we’re going to be isolated and our home values and the value of businesses are going to be diminished.”

Cespedes said Alternative F provided more connectivity than Alternatives A and C.

“It happens that there are very few connections between the frontage roads and the mainlanes in the TxDOT alternatives,” Cespedes said. “That’s really a problem because the people in Oak Hill think it’s going to speed up their route into town. They’re going to be sorely disillusioned.”

Addressing opponents’ arguments that through-traffic can’t be mixed with local traffic, Cespedes said it all depends on the design.

“You can have the through-lanes and have local traffic come in through the side-lanes without separating them by a wide margin as frontage roads,” Cespedes said.

Rick Perkins, a resident of Granada Hills and Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods secretary, said a grade-separated option that separates local and through-traffic is a more efficient and safer alternative.

“Options A and C provide for grade separation so that the mainlane traffic that is passing through Oak Hill can use the faster mainlanes of the freeway (tolled or un-tolled), and the local traffic traveling within a few miles around Oak Hill can travel on the lower speed frontage roads of the highway,” Perkins said.

Perkins said because U.S. 290 sees such a large measure of non-local traffic, it needs to be capable of handling the traffic of a major freeway.

“This is the direct connection—by road—for all of the major cities to the west and southwest,” Perkins said. “It’s an interstate roadway and needs to be able to handle the amount of traffic we have now and far into the future. Concepts A and C provide up to six lanes of local frontage road and up to six lanes of through-traffic for the interstate road connections as well as those driving out for day trips.”

Dan Rogers, an Oak Hill resident and transportation engineer, said the optimal design is one in which “the 290 traffic and the William Cannon traffic do not have to yield to each other at all—ever.”

Rogers said he was disappointed in the City Council’s resolution.

“We have about double the traffic on our neighborhood streets than we should have because people cut through our neighborhood to avoid the ‘Y’, and to spend essentially the same amount of money and not solve the problem really means that the government is taking my tax dollars and everybody else’s and spending them but not really solving the problem.”

Steve Beers, engineer and member of Fix 290, said a non-elevated parkway option allows for additional interchange levels and frontage roads to be added later on if they’re found to be necessary.

“You can always come back and install a double-decked roadway. So as far as being the most flexible, ‘no regrets’ approach, it would be the parkway,” Beers said. “On the other hand, let’s say you do think it’s a big mistake, you’re never going to be able to get back a 300-year-old oak tree. It would be horrendously expensive to tear down an elevated structure.”

Proposition 1, a state constitutional amendment on the ballot this November which would authorize using a portion of the state’s oil and gas production tax collections to the State Highway Fund, excludes funding for tolled roads. Beers said this is just one more reason to avoid tolling the Oak Hill Parkway.

“If we stick to the tollway idea then we’re actually removing ourselves from a possible source of money to build this thing,” Beers said.

Beers said no matter which alternative you prefer, it’s in everyone’s best interest to study the project options further before building something at odds with Oak Hill’s best interests.

“I think there’s probably something better out there than (options) A and C, and I don’t see any reason why they can’t keep the door open and keep looking at improving those as well as looking at a parkway.”

Melissa Hurst, community outreach manager for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, said engineers are currently refining concept designs. The next open house is anticipated for late this year or early 2015. Meanwhile, the Mobility Authority is beginning the Context Sensitive Solutions process, which includes aesthetics for the project, Hurst said.

“In addition to the aesthetics, we’ll be discussing the large oak trees and bike and pedestrian accommodations.”

For more information on the Oak Hill Parkway visit oakhillparkway.com.


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