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“Think traffic on Mopac is bad now, imagine 30,000 more cars per day once SH45 SW is built”

Is this what Austin needs? We don't think so.

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Don't be fooled. Stop 45 SW and the conversion of Mopac into a second I-35!

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)

September Update  -- And what you can do!

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.

Donate to support the Keep Mopac Local coalition – fully tax-deductible.

The federal lawsuit filed in February by two former Austin mayors, the Friends of the Wildflower Center, Save Barton Creek Assn., Save Our Springs Alliance, Susan and Jerry Jeff Walker, and others now heads toward a likely hearing on preliminary injunction in mid-October.   TxDOT’s partner, the CTRMA, awarded a construction contract for the SH 45 SW portion of the 45SW/Mopac toll loop on July 27th.  CTRMA lawyers say their current plan is to begin clearing the toll road right-of-way on or soon after October 24th.
 
Absent a preliminary injunction from the court, this construction would be allowed to proceed – starting with the cutting down of hundreds of trees, many of them decades old oaks and ash juniper.  These trees provide important habitat for the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler, a migratory songbird that nests in Central Texas woodlands and nowhere else in the world.

In August TxDOT sought to legalize this destruction of warbler habitat by requesting to come under the county wide endangered species permit jointly held by the City of Austin and Travis County.  That request was rejected by the City, and, as reported by the Statesman, TxDOT now says it will forge ahead regardless of harm to the endangered songbird.

The primary claim in the federal lawsuit is that TxDOT and CTRMA improperly “segmented” the environmental review of the 45SW/Mopac toll loop expansion into three separate studies so as avoid a comprehensive analysis of the environmental impacts of and potential alternatives to the three-part project.  However, a second claim is that building SH 45 SW requires federal approval that has not been secured because of the resulting harm to the endangered songbird and the listed-endangered Austin Blind and Barton Springs salamanders.


Plaintiffs in the case won the first round on September 6th when U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss the case.  Read the Statesman story and the Austin Monitor coverage at the links. The court's order is here.


This is just the first round.   Next Judge Yeakel will decide if Plaintiffs are entitled to discover agency documents relevant to TxDOT's decisions to chop up the toll loop into four separate pieces for purposes of environmental analysis.  TxDOT and CTRMA have opposed all discovery of agency documents which they have not deemed part of the official "administrative record." 


While CTRMA pushes for a late October start date, it still does not have approved financing from the Texas Transportation Commission.  CTRMA also does not have an approved TCEQ Water Pollution Abatement Plan for the SH 45 SW construction. 


The best way to keep up with new developments as they unfold  is to sign up for the Save Our Springs Alliance email news list here

April 2016 Update – What you can do!

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.

Donate to support the Keep Mopac Local coalition – fully tax-deductible.

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.

For more information: Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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.

Donate to support the Keep Mopac Local coalition – fully tax-deductible.

The federal lawsuit filed in February by two former Austin mayors, the Friends of the Wildflower Center, Save Barton Creek Assn., Save Our Springs Alliance, Susan and Jerry Jeff Walker, and others now heads toward a likely hearing on preliminary injunction in mid-October.   TxDOT’s partner, the CTRMA, awarded a construction contract for the SH 45 SW portion of the 45SW/Mopac toll loop on July 27th.  CTRMA lawyers say their current plan is to begin clearing the toll road right-of-way on or soon after October 24th. 

Absent a preliminary injunction from the court, this construction would be allowed to proceed – starting with the cutting down of hundreds of trees, many of them decades old oaks and ash juniper.  These trees provide important habitat for the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler, a migratory songbird that nests in Central Texas woodlands and nowhere else in the world.

In August TxDOT sought to legalize this destruction of warbler habitat by requesting to come under the county wide endangered species permit jointly held by the City of Austin and Travis County.  That request was rejected by the City, and, as reported by the Statesman, TxDOT now says it will forge ahead regardless of harm to the endangered songbird.

The primary claim in the federal lawsuit is that TxDOT and CTRMA improperly “segmented” the environmental review of the 45SW/Mopac toll loop expansion into three separate studies so as avoid a comprehensive analysis of the environmental impacts of and potential alternatives to the three-part project.  However, a second claim is that building SH 45 SW requires federal approval that has not been secured because of the resulting harm to the endangered songbird and the listed-endangered Austin Blind and Barton Springs salamanders.

Plaintiffs in the case won the first round on September 6th when U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss the case.  Read the Statesman story and the Austin Monitor coverage at the links.   The court's order is here.

This is just the first round.   Next Judge Yeakel will decide if Plaintiffs are entitled to discover agency documents relevant to TxDOT's decisions to chop up the toll loop into four separate pieces for purposes of environmental analysis.  TxDOT and CTRMA have opposed all discovery of agency documents which they have not deemed part of the official "administrative record." 

While CTRMA pushes for a late October start date, it still does not have approved financing from the Texas Transportation Commission.  CTRMA also does not have an approved TCEQ Water Pollution Abatement Plan for the SH 45 SW construction. 

The best way to keep up with new developments as they unfold  is to sign up for the Save Our Springs Alliance email news list here. 



Future View

Proposed toll loop showing three segments of proposed Mopac toll lanes (1,2,3) and two segments of proposed SH 45 SW toll road (4 and 5) and interim "alternative" loop, expansion of FM 1626.

Public Comment / Public Hearing on draft Environmental Impact Statement for 45SW

TxDOT and CTRMA are hosting a public hearing at Bowie High School at 5:00 PM on Tuesday July 29th to take public comment on their draft Environmental Impact Statement for 45SW. Written comments will be accepted through August 13th. Get more details here and please speak out.

News Updates - TxDOT’s current schedule for the 45SW aquifer toll road would have the environmental review and public comment process completed by January / February 2015, with construction beginning in September / October 2015. As explained below, there are plenty of others working to stop this waste of $100 million of taxpayer funds.

At the same time TxDOT and the toll road authority are pushing forward on 45SW, they are moving to add up to six (6) more lanes on Mopac from Cesar Chavez to Slaughter Lane (the so-called “Mopac South project”) and build 4 to 6 freeway main lanes and bridges at the Mopac/Slaughter and Mopac/LaCrosse intersections (the so-called “Mopac Intersections project”).  The current TxDOT/CTRMA schedule would have the “Mopac Intersections” truncated environmental review completed in September/October, with construction beginning in 2015. The larger and most expensive and problematic Cesar Chavez-to-Slaughter expansion would be subject to slower (not necessarily better) studies, begun in 2013 and set to continue into 2016.

In reality these parallel projects are really just one project: the conversion of Mopac from a local commuter highway to an alternative Interstate 35 West. But major steps are being taken to derail this piecemeal, backwards approach.

On May 15th a six-to-one Austin City Council majority took a major step against the TxDOT/CTRMA piecemeal subterfuge, calling on TxDOT, CTRMA, and other agencies to study the whole (and real) project first, in one comprehensive analysis, before building any of the pieces. This approach is common sense and is also required by law.

Read the May 15th Austin City Council resolution here. The resolution also instructs City Staff to propose better uses of limited transportation funds for projects that would actually improve north-south commuting between Austin and Hays County.

Keep Mopac Local coalition representatives continue to reach out to neighborhood leaders, public officials, the media, and others to join us and the Austin City Council in calling for an honest analysis of the real (and whole) project of converting Mopac to Interstate 35 West before any of the pieces are built. Rushing forward with the 3.6 mile piece of 45SW crossing the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer recharge zone makes no sense when South Mopac is already maxed out with congestion. The first piece of 45SW would add 15,000 cars and trucks to Mopac every day – diverting traffic from I-35 over to Mopac.

If and when the second piece of 45SW is completed, connecting directly to I-35, traffic on Mopac “blows up” in the words of KML’s consulting traffic expert Mike Brown. You simply cannot add enough lanes to Mopac if the south end is connected over to I-35.

Keep Mopac Local experts are working with City of Austin technical staff and others to comment on the shortcomings and misstatements included in the draft EIS for 45SW. (TxDOT and CTRMA need to hear from you too.) Our experts are also working to fill in more details on the obvious alternatives that would actually reduce, rather than increase, traffic congestion in far south Austin -- and for a fraction of the $100 million price tag of the 45SW aquifer toll road boondoggle.

SOS Alliance v. Gerald Daugherty, Commissioner – Discovery in SOS Alliance’s Texas Pubic Information Act lawsuit against 45SW ramrod, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty continues. SOS Alliance already has sworn admissions from Commissioner Daugherty that he destroyed public information and failed to produce other public documents that were requested by the Alliance in May 2013. SOSA is pursuing locating as many of the documents as possible before moving for summary judgment against Commissioner Daugherty.

Finally, we continue to work on the best ideas for spending $100 million in a way that would actually benefit Austin and Travis County commuters, while protecting our most vulnerable and essential water supplies. With rapid growth and a changing climate, it is essential that we build and invest our public and private dollars to steer development away from our most vulnerable and essential water supplies.

Stay tuned and please add your voice to the call to “Keep Mopac Local” and to “study the whole and real project of converting Mopac to I-35 West before spending another dime on the 45SW aquifer toll road.”  

See previous updates for more information on the truth about the proposed 45SW/Mopac loop project.

Mike Brown on SH45

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Mike Brown of Metro Analytics tells the truth about SH45.

Brigid Shea


Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea.

Jim Harrington


Jim Harrington, Texas Civil Rights Project Executive Director.

Attorney Marisa Perales


Attorney Marisa Perales.

Clark Richards


Clark Richards, son of the late Governor Ann Richards.

Flint Ridge Cave Recharge


Video showing the Flint Ridge Cave recharge feature.

SOUTH MOPAC NEIGHBORS' ALLIANCE

For more information and daily updates, please visit the South Mopac Neighbors' Alliance Facebook page.

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