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