By Moses Leos III
An injunction filed by various groups trying to stop the State Highway 45 southwest project in its tracks was struck down by a federal judge earlier this month.
According to a report from the Austin American-Statesman, the injunction, filed by multiple groups including the Save our Springs alliance, was denied by Judge Lee Yeakel.
The decision allows the Texas Department of Transportation, along with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), to begin the construction process on the proposed $100 million, four-lane toll road. The road is projected to connect FM 1626 at Bliss Spillar Road in Hays County to MoPac in Austin.
Hays County has committed $5 million for the project, while Travis County is committing $20 million. The remaining balance would come from a loan from TxDOT, which would be paid back from monies gathered from the toll road.
“This is something this area has been waiting on for 30 years,” said Mark Jones, Hays County Pct. 2 Commissioner. “This is for mobility and connectivity and improving quality of life.”
Jones said he “strongly agreed” with Yeakel’s decision, which determined construction of the SH 45 southwest project was not dependent on two other additional MoPac projects.
According to documents on the ruling, the groups sought the injunction on the claim TxDOT and CTRMA had “improperly segmented” three projects, including SH 45 SW, in order to avoid application of the National Environmental Policy Act. The groups claimed the projects were “a major federal action.”
Yeakel argued SH 45 was not a “major federal action” and wasn’t subject to NEPA requirements. He also said TxDOT and CTRMA complied with all applicable federal rgulations governing construction.
The injunction, which was filed in February, was the latest attempt by the SOS and other groups to halt the SH 45 SW project, which has been proposed for more than 30 years.
In March 2015, TxDOT handed down its record of decision to move forward with construction with the SH 45 toll road.
According to a post on the SOS website, the group disagreed with the decision, saying SH 45, along with improvement projects to Mopac intersections and Mopac south are overlapping and have cumulative effects on Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer. The SOS believes studying the projects separately violates NEPA regulations to consider alternatives.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s initial application of the (NEPA) and its implementing rules to the facts in this case,” according to a post on the SOS website. “While this is a significant setback, the case, and parallel efforts to keep Mopac from being converted into a second Interstate 35 through Austin and on top of Texas’ most vulnerable aquifer will continue. Plaintiffs will pursue this case to conclusion.”
Jones said groundbreaking for construction will take place within the next week to 14 days. Construction could begin soon after.
“Even if the other projects aren’t built, SH 45 is still helping with congestion,” Jones said. “SH 45 would be a big help to our area.”