Texas 45 South­west toll road dis­pute now in judge’s hands

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Nolan Hicks nhicks@statesman.com Toll road

Op­po­nents of plans to build the Texas 45 South­west toll road re­turned to fed­eral court Wed­nes­day, ask­ing a judge to stop the project now un­der con­struc­tion and send plan­ners back to the draw­ing board.

Crit­ics have long ar­gued the 3.6-mile-long toll road, the sub­ject of fierce de­bate in Austin for three decades, would harm the en­vi­ron­ment. Sup­port­ers and trans­porta­tion plan­ners have coun­tered the fears are overblown and ar­gued the ad­di­tional in­fras­truc­ture is badly needed.

A dozen plain­tiffs, in­clud­ing sev­eral Austin en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and for­mer May­ors Carol Kee­ton and Frank Cook­sey, charge the Cen­tral Texas Re­gional Mo­bil­ity Author­ity and Texas Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion im­prop­erly sep­a­rated the study on the toll road’s en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact from two other nearby pro­pos­als: adding toll lanes to the south­ern por­tion of MoPac Boule­vard and new un­der­passes for the MoPac in­ter­sec­tions at Slaugh­ter Lane and La Crosse Av­enue.

Only by look­ing at the im­pact of all three projects to­gether, they ar­gue, could of­fi­cials cer­tify the to­tal pack­age of road projects wouldn’t en­dan­ger the Ed­wards Aquifer recharge zone that feeds Bar­ton Springs or the habi­tat of fed­er­ally pro­tected species, such as the golden-cheeked war­bler.

“The cu­mu­la­tive im­pacts of these cu­mu­la­tive projects need to be ad­dressed in a sin­gle analysis,” ar­gued at­tor­ney Re­nea Hicks (no re­la­tion to the re­porter). He later pointed to the traf­fic analysis done for Texas 45 South­west, which in­cluded the other projects, and said: “If they’re to­gether for traf­fic, they’re to­gether for en­vi­ron­men­tal (re­view).”

His ar­gu­ment was con­tin­ued by at­tor­ney Bill Bunch, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Save Our Springs Al­liance, which is one of the plain­tiffs.

“There is not a sin­gle traf­fic study that looks at what hap­pens if you just build (Texas) 45,” Bunch added.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, who presided over the one-day trial Wed­nes­day, didn’t in­di­cate when he would is­sue a rul­ing.

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