Monday, November 20, 2017

Oak Hill Parkway officials update OHAN

July 12, 2017  

OHAN treasurer Alan Watts pointed out that historical growth in traffic counts at US 290 and William Cannon (1995-2015) have been 2.17 percent annually. He thinks road officials’ 2015-2045 estimates are wrong.

by Ann Fowler

OAK HILL –  Lynda Rife, public involvement consultant for Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), told members of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN) that last year was spent doing the science portion of the Oak Hill Parkway, such as counting trees and performing archeological studies along the proposed roadway. She said the reports are almost complete.

Environmental impact studies are still underway. Rife said they would receive a Record of Decision (ROD) by next summer.

Also lending their expertise to the discussion were Enoch “Bubba” Needham, project director of Atkins’ central tolls group, Oscar Soliz of CTRMA and Rose Marie Klee of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Soliz said when and if the roadway passes the environmental hurdles, design of the chosen alternative can begin and is expected to take a year and a half. Construction will take at least 3.5 years.

Rife said roadway officials have made changes based on community feedback, such as improving access for businesses along SH 71 north of U.S. 290 West, as well as improving access to Old Bee Caves Road.

Rife said sound walls would be built if reasonable and feasible—so a single property owner bothered by noise will get no relief, but a group of homeowners might.

Carol Cespedes did not feel the loss of hundreds of trees in Oak Hill was worth the tradeoff. Klee said they have designed the corridor to save half the trees originally scheduled to have been removed. “We call them the Carol trees,” she said.

Rife added that revised traffic numbers made them widen the road to three lanes each way from the ‘Y’ to RM 1826.

OHAN treasurer Alan Watts disputed the need for these revised traffic figures, saying historical growth has been 2.17 percent annually. He said an abnormal growth of 4.64 percent in 2015 caused road officials to change to that percentage going forward. Watts did not believe that growth would continue.

Rife said they were required to use the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization federal model for traffic counts.

A.J. Offermann of Zyle Road just wants traffic relief. She said they’ve been working on the project for years and she does believe the area will grow substantially in coming years. “We’re wasting money by waiting,” she said.

It is unclear how, if completed, the roadway would ultimately help with traffic. Although some signals may be bypassed, it appears that this new, larger roadway would simply get traffic to the MoPac rushhour logjam more quickly.

Sometimes signals are not a bad idea. In California, many onramps are signalized to control traffic accessing major highways. According to officials, “By regulating the flow of traffic entering the freeways during peak traffic hours, the overall flow of traffic on the freeways is smoother. The regulated flow means we can accommodate more vehicles per hour on the freeways, shorten commute times, and provide a higher degree of safety.”

There does not appear to be a plan to fix the northbound MoPac bottleneck that starts near Loop 360.

The question of whether the Oak Hill Parkway would be tolled is still up in the air. Watts said he talked with a county commissioner recently who said tolling the road seemed less likely.

In a 2014 finance workshop, a funding simulation exercise was based on an estimate of $650 million. They estimated that 70 percent of people using the tollway would live outside of Oak Hill. If the toll is $2, the estimate is that $159 million would come from drivers who live in Oak Hill. The $650 price tag can be reached with $73 million from State Category 2 funding, $47 million in federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) funding, and the remaining $371 million from drivers outside of Oak Hill.

Because the roadway has not passed the environmental hurdles yet, the CAMPO 2040 Plan does not mention the Oak Hill Parkway as a planned roadway, only as a possibility: “CTRMA is currently investigating projects on MoPac south of the river, US 183N, US 183 between US 290 and SH 71E (Bergstrom Expressway), the intersection of US 290 and SH 71 (Oak Hill Parkway), and SH 45SW.”

It is unclear how much higher the price tag will be by the time construction begins—if it does.

 


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