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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.

Most immediately -- Keep Mopac Local supporters are urged to send an email by  May 9th to CAMPO and other local and state officials urging them to oppose including $100 million for SH 45 SW in the 2015 to 2018 CAMPO funding plan. Go to the TAKE ACTION button to send a single email to the relevant officials.

At the same time, TxDOT and CTRMA are soliciting comments thru May 9th on the www.MopacSouth.com website on the proposed expansion of Mopac from Slaughter Lane north to Cesar Chavez (and across Lady Bird Lake). See below for more details.

Recent News -- Most observers are aware that in March Sarah Eckhardt and Brigid Shea won the Democratic party nominations to serve on the Travis County Commissioners Court. Both are opposed to building SH 45 SW and when they take office in January 2015 a majority of county commissioners will oppose the road. Immediately after the March primary vote, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty moved to commit $15 million of Travis County funds to building Phase I of SH 45 SW no later than October of this year. Daugherty’s move was opposed by over 3000 people who signed an online petition and sent emails to the county. The Austin American-Statesman editorial board opposed the move, recognizing that environmental studies and the funding plan for the project had not been completed.

Supported by lame duck County Judge Sam Biscoe and lame duck (and appointed, not elected) County Commissioner Bruce Todd, Daugherty won support for a deal that would have funded the $100 million aquifer toll road this way:

*$15 million borrowed by Travis County from TxDOT, to be paid with county taxes

*$5 million borrowed by Hays County from TxDOT

*$32 million from a TxDOT pot of money allocated to CAMPO and the Autin metro region

*$48 million borrowed from Wall Street in the form of bonds backed by future toll collections

TxDOT, CTRMA, and CAMPO officials pretended that this money would just fall from the sky for this project only, and thus allocating the $100 million would not detract from funding other projects (that might actually reduce rather than increase congestion). 
Along the way, SOS Alliance attorneys forced the release of not one but 4 different traffic studies on the proposed SH 45 SW contracted by TxDOT, CTRMA, and CAMPO. All of these studies confirm that the primary effects of building SH 45 SW are to divert commuters from I-35 to Mopac, making congestion on Mopac even worse. This effect is greatly compounded by Phase II of SH 45 SW, connecting directly to I-35, is completed.

These studies also confirm that traffic on Brodie increases with or without SH 45 SW, and thus building 45SW does not solve the “Brodie problem.”

SOS’s public information demands also surfaced an internal memo by toll road authority engineers observing that the first phase of 45SW would not generate sufficient tolls to support the $48 million of proposed toll-backed bonds, but that when connected to I-35, the revenue generation would be much greater. This confirmed the financial and transportation truth that the real “project” is not just connecting South Mopac to 1626, but rather connecting the loop to I-35 and making Mopac an alternative I-35 West.

Upon release of its “traffic and revenue” study, forced by an SOS Alliance Texas Public Information Act lawsuit, CTRMA promptly announced that it would NOT borrow money from Wall Street but, instead, would borrow from TxDOT, and that perhaps only $30 million would be backed by future toll collections. So far there is no explanation of the source of funds for the $18 million gap (the difference between the previous $48 million figure and the new $30 million number).

All of this raises the question of when the other CAMPO members are going to wake up and realize that the transportation projects they want are going to be left in the ditch if SH 45 SW rushes forward. There now won’t be a single penny of private funding in 45SW – the entire $100 million amount will come from taxpayers, displacing an equal amount of $100 million funding. Since TxDOT have sworn off federal matching funds in order to avoid federal environmental reviews, CAMPO may well be losing even more federal dollars that will go unmatched.

Meanwhile, it is has become crystal clear that the real “project” here is not just a piece of toll road between South Mopac and FM 1626, but rather a “loop” that converts Mopac from a local commuter highway to a western I-35 – with the same kind of traffic nightmares that I-35 suffers if the southern loop/link is made. Keep Mopac Local advocates are demanding that this “whole project” be studied and considered before any of the pieces are rushed forward in piece meal fashion.

Don’t be fooled. The “Mopac South” project website and public information has been extremely misleading. First, there is the name of the “project.” Then, the very first words on the www.MopacSouth.com website read “The Mopac corridor south of Lady Bird Lake . . . “ There’s not a single word on the front page of the website that tells the reader that the project starts north of the river, at Cesar Chavez. We doubt this is just by accident. Any effort to expand the Mopac bridge over Town Lake and build “flyovers” will require additional taking of park land north and south of the river, and will impinge on Austin High School, the extremely popular hike-and-bike bridge under the Mopac bridge, and West Austin neighborhoods and businesses north of the river. For TxDOT and the toll road authority, its much better to have people think the project only affects “south of Lady Bird Lake.”

Separate (but not really) TxDOT and CTRMA and trying to rush ahead with building freeway main lanes and bridges at the Slaughter/Mopac and LaCross/Mopac intersections, separate from the larger “Mopac South” project, and also separate from the proposed SH 45 SW toll road project immediately to the south. The cost and environmental damage of these proposed projects are unnecessary. Much faster, cheaper, options exist to improve traffic flow at these intersections without harming neighbors, neighboring businesses, or the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Finally, on April 24 Keep Mopac Local traffic consultant Mike Brown released his analysis showing that traffic flow at the Slaughter/Mopac intersections can be improved greatly just by changing the signal timing. Also, Mike shows that “innovative intersection” designs can greatly improve flow at Slaughter and Mopac without building freeway main lanes and bridges. Finally, he shows that the freeway main lanes and bridges really only benefit thru traffic: local traffic on Slaughter Lane will not significantly improve. Watch Mike’s video HERE.

Stay tuned to the Keep Mopac Local website and share it with friends. Please “take action” today.

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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