Lawsuits set against Oak Hill expansion project

Two lawsuits filed by six groups aim to halt the completion of the Oak Hill Parkway project, a proposed $550 million expansion of the “Y” just outside of Austin.  

Initiated by water watchdog group Save Our Springs (SOS) Alliance, the first lawsuit, filed July 29, alleges expansion of the U.S. 290 and Texas 71 interchange could threaten local endangered salamander populations, including the Austin Blind Salamander and Barton Springs Salamander. 

That first suit was filed against Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. SOS is asking that the project come to a halt until TxDOT can comply with the Endangered Species Act, according to the suit. 

“In terms of environmental sensitivity, there couldn’t be a worse location for this amount of excavation,” said SOS attorney Kelly Davis in a statement. “The recharge zone is highly vulnerable to pollutants, such as silts and fuels, which can impact the underground water quality upon which the endangered salamander depends.” 

A second lawsuit against the project was filed two days later by five local groups. These groups include Fix 290, Save Oak Hill, Save Barton Creek Association, South Windmill Run Neighborhood Association, Clean Water Action and local landowners, according to a release. 

The second piece of litigation was filed against TxDOT and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). However, the goal of the second lawsuit is “not to stop the project, but rather to work with TxDOT to improve the project and avoid both litigation and construction-caused delays.” 

Plans to expand the “Y” have been in the works for three decades, with major strides occurring in the past five years with the help of the Texas Transportation Committee (TTC) and CAMPO. 

In 2018, the TTC voted to approve the 2019 Unified Transportation Program, which includes funding for the Y. 

The move to include the $440 million project was seen as a victory by several former Hays County elected officials, who saw the project as a means to bridge the gap between Hays and Travis counties. 

The project is anticipated to alleviate traffic congestion for commuters from western Hays County like Dripping Springs to the Austin area. 

Former Hays County Commissioner and CAMPO Chairman Will Conley said in 2018 the project would meet the demands of the future for both counties, according to a Hays Free Press report.

Former County Commissioner Ray Whisenant also voiced support for the project during his tenure in office.

In some areas, the project would accommodate 12 lanes of road, a major overhaul to the current infrastructure at the Y. 

But local groups fear this expansion would put strains on local wildlife and waterways. Instead, SOS has argued a secondary meandering boulevard should be build to offset the footprint of the project. 

Additionally, in 2018, Save Oak Hill announced a complete rework of the project, calling for a more environmentally sensitive project that would save dozens of trees and natural habitats. 

A TxDOT official said the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation. 

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