by Penny Levers
“There are no silver bullets for this god-awful traffic,” Precinct 3 County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty began his recent transportation update.
He told a capacity crowd at the June 4 Oak Hill Business and Professional Association (OHBPA) monthly luncheon: “There are not enough people who will do anything other than drive their single-occupancy vehicles for any mass transit solutions to make a bit of difference on our overcrowded roads,” he said, while pointing out that by increasing the capacity of our roads, it also helps Cap Metro’s bus system move people around the city faster.
Daugherty then laid out the current status and projected timelines of road projects affecting Southwest Austin including SH 45SW, Hwy 290/71 and MoPac South.
SH 45SW, which has had a long and contentious history dating back to its original conception in 1985 by the Texas Transportation Commission, is planned as a 3.6 mile four-lane toll road that would extend SH45 from MoPac to FM 1626. Voters approved the project in a 1997 bond election.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced back in March that it is moving forward with construction of State Highway 45 Southwest (SH45 SW) now that an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) has been completed. Access to the new road will be limited to FM 1626, Bliss Spillar Road, Mopac or SH45 west of MoPac.
“This road is going to be built!” Daugherty said. “This is the first time I can say that with confidence. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is done, funding is in place, and maybe by this time next year we will put shovels in the ground and have a ribbon cutting.”
He went on to say that construction will probably take about 18 months but “I hope SOS (Save Our Springs Alliance) does not file a lawsuit, though it is probably likely. There would be a 5-6 month delay then, but I don’t think they can stop it. A lot of people are wondering why they would bother to file a lawsuit.”
When contacted to respond to Daugherty’s comments, Bill Bunch, Executive Director of the Save Our Springs Alliance said, “We still believe that a lawsuit can be avoided. Very serious environmental and transportation planning issues remain. The TxDOT/CTRMA “state” environmental impact statement is propaganda, not analysis.”
Bunch went on to say that he does not agree with Daugherty that SH 45SW is going to be built. “I think the legal problems they have faced all along remain. Also, the common sense problem they have of building 45SW first, and diverting commuters in northern Hays County, who currently use I-35, over to MoPac, before improving MoPac, will become clear in the months ahead. The sequence is backwards. We need to improve MoPac first before dumping yet more traffic onto MoPac.”
As things currently stand, the project is proceeding with final design and construction. The CTRMA has tasked the Rodriguez Transportation Group (RTG) with developing design and construction plans, a process that will take several months. Once these plans are finalized, officials will request bids for construction. Once a contractor is chosen, construction can begin.
The design for the Highway 290/71 project, also known as the Oak Hill Parkway is “just about finalized”, Daugherty said. “The Environmental Impact Statement should be finished by the middle of the fall.” He added that the projected date for the start of construction of the Parkway is 2019 or later, although continuous flow improvements on those roads should be complete within 6 months and an additional lane on Highway 71 from Scenic Brook Drive to Southwest Parkway is being done now and should all be finished within the next 18 months.
MoPac South is the portion of MoPac from Slaughter Lane across Lady Bird Lake to Cesar Chavez. Plans are to add two additional tolled lanes in either direction. Daugherty says the MoPac lanes will be tolled by a “congestion price index” which means drivers will pay a higher price during times when MoPac is most congested. “We are getting a lot of complaints about the elevation at the river messing up the sightline to downtown,” Daugherty said. The EIS for this project should be finished within a year to a year and a half.