By Moses Leos III
Litigation filed by a coalition of groups and individuals seeks to halt the Texas Department of Transportation’s State Highway 45 Southwest project months before construction is scheduled to begin.
But according to Hays County Precinct No. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones, TxDOT officials are“confident” they could begin the project by summer 2016.
The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 24 in the U.S. Western District Court of Texas, was made on behalf of 12 parties, including the Save our Springs Alliance. Other parties include former Texas Comptroller and Railroad Commissioner Carole Keeton, along with singer and songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker and his wife Susan.
Their lawsuit, which was filed against TxDOT and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Assocation (CTRMA), sought an injunction on construction on the southern half of Loop 1 (MoPac) in Austin.
One of the projects is the construction of SH 45 SW, a 3.6 mile, four-lane toll road that would connect FM 1626 to MoPac. The road is projected to cost $70 to $100 million. According to the SH 45 SW website, Hays County commissioners in 2014 pledged $5 million toward construction of SH 45 SW.
According to Jones, TxDOT and CTRMA officials “expected” a lawsuit to be filed. But he believed those who filed a lawsuit would “save their ammo” for improvements to south MoPac in Austin as SH 45 SW was a “done deal.”
The injunction is the latest hurdle placed against SH 45 SW since it was first introduced in 1985.
In July 2014, TxDOT presented an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which evaluated the impact the project could have on the area. In March 2015, TxDOT issued its decision to proceed with final design and construction of the project.
According to the lawsuit, the injunction was filed concerning an “inter-connected set of far-reaching actions” agencies are “instituting in the recharge zone of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.”
One party against the MoPac project is the Friendship Alliance of Hays County, a non-profit representing residents along FM 1826 and US 290 West.
According to the lawsuit, the Alliance claims SH 45 SW would harm the interests of residents they represent by making traffic on South MoPac worse.
Within the lawsuit, the Alliance also claims SH 45 SW would encourage “more unmanaged growth” in northern Hays County that could harm “the rural character, scenic beauty, water resources, traffic flow and quality of life in Northern Hays County.”
It claims the harm could be “legitimately considered and would likely be reduced or avoided” if there were first prepared a “comprehensive analysis” of the impacts of SH 45 SW.
“Every time we try to build it, there’s been a lawsuit,” Jones said. “We did everything that was required. We are building an environmentally sound road.”
Jones discounted the claims for unmanaged growth, saying not building the road has “not slowed the growth one bit.”
“Austin has had the attitude, ‘if you don’t build it they won’t come.’ They are still coming,” Jones said. “We don’t have a choice. We have to improve infrastructure whenever we can. If we don’t, we could have as much gridlock and congestion as Austin.”
Quick timeline of SH 45 SW
1985: SH45SW project introduced
July 2014: TxDOT presented an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
March 2015: TxDOT issued its decision to proceed with final design and construction
Feb. 24, 2016: Lawsuit filed against TxDOT and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Assocation by 12 parties, including the Save our Springs Alliance.
Summer 2016: Projected start date of construction