By Samantha Smith
Preliminary steps toward moving forward with a project that would connect FM 1626 in Hays County to MoPac in Austin occurred last week as the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) is now seeking bids for construction of State Highway 45 southwest (SH 45 SW).
Hays County Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones said the proposed regional connector between Hays County and Travis County has been needed for a long time.
“The roadway is too congested. Eighty to 90 percent of Buda residents commute to Austin daily,” Jones said.
SH 45 SW, which is a proposed 4-lane divided regional connector from 1626 to Mopac, is destined to be a toll road to pay off the loan for its construction. According to a December 2015 KXAN report, the funding for the connection came from a mixture of grant and loan funding.
Once CTRMA awards the bid for the project to a contractor, construction could begin before the end of the year.
“If everything goes right, they’re expecting to begin construction in October of 2016,” said Jones.
Critics of the project, such as the Save Our Springs Alliance, have argued that the need to protect the environment in the area, namely the Edwards Aquifer, outweighs the need to relieve traffic congestion.
The estimated cost of the toll road for commuters has yet to be determined as it hinges on the final construction costs of the road. Jones estimates tolls to cost between 75 to 99 cents.
Jones also says that CTRMA is responsible for setting the costs of using the toll road. He added they traditionally offer “free ride” deals as incentive for commuters to start using new toll ways.
Jones said he is optimistic about commuters’ use of the new connector.
“That road is going to be heavily used,” said Jones.
According to the Hays County website, the city of Austin along with ten neighboring cities, were designated by the U.S. Census bureau as the “Austin Urbanized Area” in 2010, which is home to 1.36 million people.
Of those 1.36 million, 800,000 live in Austin with the remaining 42 percent living in the ten adjacent cities.
According to Hays County, the county’s population grew 60 percent between 2000 and 2010, resulting in more congestion on roadways.
Jones said not building the connector is adding at least 15 to 20 minutes onto people’s commute.
In a KXAN report, Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley said environmental precautions are being taken to address runoff from the road.
With the advanced environmental safeguards being used, Jones anticipates the regional connector will meet the transportation needs of Hays County residents without greatly expanding the counties carbon footprint.