See the 2022 Women in Business Magazine

Hays County addresses letter opposing SH 45 project

By Megan Wehring

HAYS COUNTY – The Hays County Commissioners Court discussed a letter sent by the Travis County Commissioners Court opposing the completion of the State Highway 45 expansion project. 

On Aug. 30, the Hays County Commissioners Court approved a $2.5 million engineering and design contract with a 4-1 vote to complete the missing section of SH 45 between I-35 and FM 1626, connecting I-35 to South Mopac – Judge Ruben Becerra was the dissenting vote.

Travis County sent the letter on Sept. 13 in order to “make clear our opposition to this action by Hays County.” The Hays County Commissioners Court addressed concerns explained in the letter during the Sept. 27 meeting – no action was taken.

Some of the concerns that Travis County has regarding the SH 45 project include increased traffic and impacts on the environment. 

“Making the connection from I-35 to FM 1626 would effectively make Mopac an I-35 bypass, dramatically increasing vehicular and truck traffic,” the letter stated. “The traffic impacts of this decision by Hays County would have a profound and detrimental effect almost entirely on Austin and Travis County.”

According to Travis County, the connection will also increase traffic over environmentally sensitive lands including Balcones Canyonlands Preserve lands, the city of Austin Water Quality Protection lands, karst features, Edwards Aquifer, endangered species habitat and conservation easements. 

The letter also stated that the project is not included in TxDOT’s updated 10-year funding plan (2023 Unified Transportation Plan), the Travis County transportation plan and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) 2045 Regional Transportation Plan.

However, Hays County Commissioner Walt Smith said otherwise. 

“If you look at the CAMPO [2045] Plan, which is the plan that we work under as regional partners, that roadway is included,” Smith said. “Not only is it included there but the reason why it is not included in the 10-year plan is because [it]doesn’t call for funding in the next 10 years. We don’t call for funding in the next 10 years. If you look at the long-range plans of our regional partners, there is no one within CAMPO who has more votes as a county than Travis County.”

In response to the environmental concerns that the roadway would go over water conservation land, Smith said he believed that “every bit of this individual leg” would be over what is currently private property.

“It contains none of those set-aside conservation easements nor any set-aside water quality improvement property that the city of Austin or Travis County has.”

Smith added that there is a need for this project in the community.

“These projects take decades,” Smith said. “My constituents in the Buda and Kyle area are very adamant in support of this project, simply because they understand the need for it because they see it every day.”

Commissioner Mark Jones agreed. 

“That road, every day, I think each one of us gets criticized on our infrastructure and that we are behind on building roads,” Jones said. “That we should have done this 10 years, should have built this road or improved this road. We have never been ahead. This is an attempt to get ahead of a project – development is starting to happen along the road that we think will be the route between I-35 and 1626.”

Jones clarified that this is a planning project to give the citizens an idea of where that road will go if it is ever built. Along with partnering with the city of Buda, Jones said that Hays County is working with the following as part of the process: Travis County, the city of Austin, CAMPO, Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTMRA) and TxDOT.

“It’s not a construction project,” Jones said. “There are no federal funds in this. It’s a Hays County and Buda project to help and benefit our citizens.”

Commissioner Lon Shell said that the project will affect the entire region because of the proposed location.

“Where 45 begins at I-35, it’s probably about two miles,” Shell said. “It looks like a natural connection to study. I don’t think it’s the most ridiculous thing to think that Hays County, the city of Buda and others would be interested in looking at the connection to see how it would happen when it would happen, how much it would cost, what it would do and how to mitigate those concerns. Many of those concerns brought up by Travis County are shared by Hays County. We care about the recharge zone. This is part of the process that we have to go through – it’s going to take a while.”

To keep the lines of communication open, Jones committed to meeting with at least two of the commissioners every month at CAMPO to provide an update on Hays County’s progress on the project.

About Author

Megan Navarro (formerly Wehring) graduated from Texas State University in May 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. In June 2020, she started a summer internship at the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch through the Dow Jones News Fund and Texas Press Association. She then earned her way to a reporter position later that summer and now, she serves as the editor of the newspaper. Working for a small publication, Navarro wears multiple hats. She has various responsibilities including managing a team of reporters, making editorial decisions, overseeing social media posts, fact checking, writing her own articles and more. Navarro has a heart for storytelling and she believes that journalists are equipped to share the stories that are important to the community.

Comments are closed.