State highway planners are trying to pull a fast one on Austin. At different times they talk to the public about five separate toll projects in southwest Austin, but they rarely connect the dots. The reality will be a massive 12-to-16 lane, partially tolled highway loop from I-35 south of Austin west to Mopac and north to Lady Bird Lake and beyond.
Once it’s completed, and the traffic floodgates open, we can kiss Austin’s quality of life goodbye. As traffic expert Mike Brown says, if South Mopac is connected to I-35 by constructing the proposed SH 45 SW, then traffic on Mopac will “explode” and you simply cannot add enough lanes to Mopac to accommodate all of the traffic. (continue reading here)
Send an email message to Governor Abbott and other state and local officials today.
Have your neighborhood or civic group pass a Keep Mopac Local resolution like this one.
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The citizen campaign to stop the backdoor conversion of Mopac into a second I-35 continues to gather steam. In late February citizen leaders and civic groups working with the Keep Mopac Local coalition filed suit in federal court to stop the toll loop project without required federal environmental studies and approvals. Read the lawsuit here and the press release here.
The suit was filed by citizen activist Shudde Fath; Austin music community stalwarts Susan and Jerry Jeff Walker; aquatic biologist Dr. Laurie Dries; former Austin mayors Carole Keeton and Frank Cooksey and civic groups Save Barton Creek Association, Friends of the Wildflower Center, Mopac Corridor Neighbors Alliance, The Friendship Alliance of Northern Hays County, Save Our Springs Alliance, and Clean Water Action.
The lawsuit against TxDOT and its toll road partner, the CTRMA, will not likely be resolved until late fall or possibly early next year.
More recently, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt wrote a stern letter to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service urging them to inform TxDOT and the CTRMA of their obligations under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. In previous letters analyzing the situation, USFWS made it clear they agreed with this perspective, but used sufficiently mushy language for TxDOT to ignore the Service’s position.
We’ll now see if USFWS will be a bit more blunt on the matter. It should be, armed with the new information that Golden-cheeked warblers have returned to mapped warbler habitat on and immediately adjacent to the proposed route for SH 45 SW Phase I. City biologists have confirmed the presence of warblers with multiple observations. TxDOT funded research by biologists for Texas A&M predict even more birds are or will be nesting on and along the SH 45 SW right-of-way (without the road, of course). The harm that will be done to the listed “endangered” songbirds triggers a legal mandate to secure Service approval for “incidental take” of songbirds prior to construction. So far, TxDOT has ignored this legal mandate. The new information and the lawsuit should change this matter.
Two other developments have arisen to give pause to TxDOT’s governing board in moving forward in the face of these mounting legal problems. There is a growing anti-toll road movement among both Republic and Democrat state officials that makes it harder for the Texas Transportation Commission and Governor Abbott to continue debt-financing of unpopular toll roads. There is also now a push to “untoll” SH 130, so that it will serve its role of relieving congestion on I-35. This is a much preferred option over pumping more than a billion dollars into converting Mopac into an I-35 relief route passing through established neighborhoods in central south and north Austin.
There is also a growing call to protect the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center from the noise, air, water, and visual pollution that would come with building the 45SW/Mopac toll loop and diverting 30,000 cars and trucks per day past the Wildflower Center. The Friends of the Wildflower Center group (not affiliated with the University of Texas or the UT-owned Wildflower Center) is standing up to protect the Center from the proposed toll loop. The group consists of former Wildflower Center board members and current Wildflower Center volunteers and donors. This action by true friends of the Wildflower Center is necessary because UT is not authorized to take action against its sister state agency, TxDOT.
For more information check out the Friends of the Wildflower Center website and take a minute to send a message to Governor Abbott to protect Lady Bird’s legacy.
Imagine Twelve Lanes of 24-hour, Interstate-35 Traffic on Mopac That’s the plan – if we don’t take action now
The proposed 12-lane Mopac toll plan includes a mile long double-decker bridge over Lady Bird Lake, through Zilker Park, and wrapping around Austin High School. If built, it would dump toll paying commuters on already overloaded Cesar Chavez and West Fifth streets, while sending the rest of the traffic north to 183 and beyond, including back to I-35. The proposal would add more than 60,000 new car trips per day onto Mopac, diverted from Interstate 35 by way of the proposed SH 45 SW toll road.
The renderings above show the proposed double-deck toll lanes crossing Lady Bird Lake and on top of the Roberta Crenshaw hike-and-bike bridge, next to Austin High School. The pictures don’t show it all, but they do show some of the worst aspects of the proposed Mopac/SH 45 SW toll loop – enough to unite Mopac commuters, Austin High School parents and faculty, Mopac neighbors and all of those who love Lady Bird Lake, Zilker Park, and Barton Springs as the Keep Mopac Local coalition.
Send an email message to our elected officials and consider a tax-deductible donation to support the Keep Mopac Local campaign.
The threat posed by the double-decked toll bridge to one of the most beautiful and iconic spots in Austin is directing public attention to the larger plan to convert Mopac from a local commuter highway to an Interstate 35 bypass.
The Mopac-to-I-35 loop project has been intentionally obscured by the fragmented, piecemeal action by our local toll road agency, the “CTRMA.” The CTRMA is still pretending that it is only looking at five pieces, or segments, of tolled roadway, that those pieces just happen to connect, end-to-end but they aren’t really building a Mopac/SH 45 SW toll loop.
As shown on the map linked above, the five segments are (1) Mopac north of Cesar Chavez (under construction, one new toll lane each way), (2) Cesar Chavez to Slaughter Lane (the now proposed 4 toll lanes, 2 each way, including the double-decked flyovers), (3) Slaughter Lane to SH 45 SW, called the “Mopac Intersections” project, (4) Phase I of SH 45 SW from Mopac to RM 1626, and (5) Phase II of SH 45 SW, from RM 1626 to I-35 and the SH 45 SE toll road. TxDOT is also building a Mopac bicycle bridge over the Barton Creek Greenbelt: when completed it will allow TxDOT and CTRMA to claim another lane for auto traffic, for a total of twelve (12) lanes.
This is a terrible idea that will convert Mopac into an alternate I-35. It will make Austin uglier while making traffic worse. This is a classic case of myopic toll road planners damaging a city in order to ”save" it.
It’s the wrong toll road in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unplanned growth has produced big traffic problems for Austin, but this scheme won’t help; it will actually hurt the city.
While other cities are dismantling freeways along their waterfronts, Austin will be pouring pavement on its own – and forcing the expansion of Cesar Chavez into Lady Bird Lake park. Other cities, including Dallas, are working to remove ugly, polluting double-decked freeways within their urban areas, the CTRMA wants us to build a new one on top of Zilker and Lady Bird Lake parks and Austin High School. If built, it will do profound harm to our national image, as well as degrading the city’s beauty and our quality of life. This is a classic case of killing the goose that laid the golden egg in the name of toll road “progress.”
TxDOT’s own studies show that if their proposed Mopac/45SW toll road plan is built , they will divert a river of traffic from I-35 to MoPac, which will become the alternate route for regional north/south traffic through Austin. As an I-35 bypass, a Mopac/SH 45 bypass would be nine miles shorter than the SH 130 bypass. For interregional traffic going to and from US 183, the proposed Mopac/SH 45 SW toll loop would become the preferred route.
CTRMA argues that the four extra toll lanes are being proposed as a means of easing Austin traffic. In reality they will choke Central Austin traffic by pouring tens of thousands of extra cars onto Caesar Chavez and Fifth Streets, which cannot handle the traffic increase. Because there’s not enough right-of-way on Fifth, the only way to “fix” this nightmare will be to widen Cesar Chavez St., paving more Lady Bird Lake park land and further ruining the tranquility and beauty of the lake.
We are being asked to sacrifice our heritage and ruin the city’s quality of life so we can move Hays County toll traffic into the city faster and cut ten minutes off the drive time between San Antonio and Dallas.
“Pave Paradise and Put Up A Parking Lot” should be the honorary title of the South MoPac/SH 45 SW toll loop. It’s everything that Austin’s not supposed to be – paving our most treasured river front property, paving our most favored and iconic central city park, paving Austin High School, paving the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and paving endangered species habitats and critical recharge lands for the soul of Austin, Barton Springs.
It doesn’t have to be this way! It’s time to tell the CTRMA and all of our local officials to stop the piecemeal study and construction of the Mopac/45SW tolled loop. The 4-toll lane Mopac proposal and the SH 45 SW Phase I segment should both be put on the shelf until we have an honest, comprehensive study of the entire Mopac/45SW loop project.
Video showing the Flint Ridge Cave recharge feature.