Feb 08, 2013

Highway Project Moving Slowly in Travis, Hays Counties

Work on FM 1626, at the border of Hays and Travis counties, is one step toward the construction of State Highway 45 Southwest. Photo by Taylor Hampton. 

By Taylor Hampton
For Reporting Texas and The Hays Free Press

The controversy over the proposed stretch of highway known as SH 45 SW may be inching toward resolution, with Hays County commissioner Mark Jones and Travis County commissioner Gerald Daugherty playing an active role.

At the Jan. 14 meeting of the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, chairman Will Conley created a three-man sub-committee to determine the most environmentally friendly way to build the road on the county border and set a timeline for completion.

Daugherty, Travis County Pct. 3 commissioner, was appointed chairman of the committee. Jones, the Hays County Pct. 2 commissioner, and Bill Spelman, an Austin City Council member, are vice-chairmen. Conley is the Hays County commissioner for Precinct 3.

“We will work vigorously on how we design, and how we will pay for it, and when we can start it,” Daugherty said in telephone interview.

SH 45 is not scheduled to be a major topic of discussion at a CAMPO meeting on Monday.

The State Highway 45 Southwest Regional Connector roadway project, a 3.6-mile road connecting MoPac in Travis County to FM1626 in Hays County, is now in its fourth decade of planning. Such environmental groups as the Sierra Club and Save Our Springs Alliance opposed its construction because they fear it would pollute the Edwards Aquifer, a drinking water source for much of Central Texas. But the drivers in this area of southwest Austin have complained that the residential streets along Brodie Lane are now clogged with traffic better suited for highways.

A large portion of the traffic feeding onto Brodie Lane comes from Hays County residents commuting into Austin for work, and from those residents of far south Travis County who must first feed onto FM 1626 in Hays County before making their trek north.

Last June, Austin City Council removed the roadway from its comprehensive plan and asked CAMPO to remove it from the 2035 Regional Plan. However, CAMPO voted to keep SH 45 SW on its plan.

Daugherty, who defeated Karen Huber in November, said he had promised constituents during his campaign to complete the project, which Huber had opposed. He said in the interview that he intends to follow through with his campaign promises. He added that the committee should know more about the promised SH 45 SW by early May.

Jones said that the road should have been built “years ago.” While a timeline has not been created he said they hope to be building in 12 to 18 months.

“Cars idling on a stretch of road in a neighborhood do more damage than cars free-flowing without stopping on a 3.6-mile county road,” Jones said in a telephone interview.

According to Cathy Stephens, CAMPO’s environmental and planning program manager, the current plan for SH 45 is for the Texas Department of Transportation and Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to build a four-lane toll road that would not be scheduled for construction until 2020-2025.

Last September, Buda City Council adopted a resolution that put SH 45 SW in the city’s Master Transportation Plan. A year earlier, the Hays County Commissioners Court had passed a resolution committing to spend up to $5 million on a county road version of the connector.

In order for SH 45 SW to be built as a county road, TxDOT would have to give the right-of-way back to Hays and Travis counties. In 1999, according to Daugherty, tax money from both counties paid for the stretch of land; the two counties then gave the right-of-way to TxDOT to build SH 45 SW.

FM 1626, which will connect with the proposed SH 45 SW, is already being expanded under an earlier Hays County road bond project. FM 1626 will intersect with SH 45 SW just north of Leisurewoods and Cimarron Park subdivisions.

The next CAMPO meeting is 6 p.m. Monday at the University of Texas at Austin Campus in the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center. The next subcommittee meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 16.