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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.

The Latest Truths and Mysteries  About Our Least Favorite Proposed Toll Road

KeepMopacLocal supporters, as well as opponents who want to build “it” now, are generally aware that last September our CAMPO transportation officials announced that the latest traffic modeling for the proposed SH45 SW, contained “errors” and would not be released to the public as promised. CAMPO Board Chair and Hays County Commissioner Will Conley promised to “get to the bottom” of the errors, but there has been no report of his promised investigation.

KML recently obtained files from CAMPO pursuant to a public information request. What we found was very interesting. The withdrawal of the traffic modeling analysis on the eve of the scheduled CAMPO board meeting was very suspicious. Hence, our research focused on the months leading up to the meeting.

What we found only tells part of the story. Email attachments and other referenced documents were not provided, so we are following up further. What the CAMPO documents reveal, though, is that while there were some technical errors in the modeling, there is nothing to suggest that these minor glitches resulted in “wrong” results.

The maps showing forecasted congestion in 2025 that were released before the full report was deep-sixed are nonetheless telling.[1] Here are the punch lines: SH 45 SW redistributes traffic away from I-35 and over to Mopac, making Mopac (Loop 1) comparably congested to I-35. Congestion on South Mopac increases under all of the scenarios—except for the SH 45 SW “No build” scenario.[2]

Moreover, the projected 2025 roadway network does not include the proposed SH 45 link between RM 1626 and I-35. Rather, the transfer of traffic from I-35 to South Mopac takes place merely as the consequence of finishing the proposed SH45 connection from Mopac east over to FM 1626, just below the Travis/Hays county line. The model predicts that many Hays County commuters who otherwise would take I-35 or Manchaca Road would instead be lured over to Mopac.

[This confirmation of the traffic impact to Mopac from 45 belies some continuing agitation to extend SH 45 all the way to I-35. This pressure comes from CAMPO’s board[3], TxDOT[4], and some of the public.]

SH 45 Southwest would mainly shift traffic away from RM 1626 (in Travis County) and Manchaca Road (FM 2304), to South Mopac, Escarpment Blvd, and to SH 45 itself. As a nontolled and/or 2-lane road, SH 45 becomes a congested roadway. Only a tolled 4-lane SH 45 shows up as uncongested in 2025.

Crucially, in all future forecast scenarios Brodie Lane remains congested with no measurable relief.

It is thus crystal clear that the modeling results provided exactly the opposite of result sthat SH45 SW “build it now” proponents wanted to hear. With Hays County Commissioner Conley in charge, there was enormous pressure to find that these conclusions were somehow wrong. On Sep 7, CAMPO director Maureen McCoy informed the board, that “the data is vitally important as an input into the Dynamic Traffic Assignment model. Therefore, the DTA results that we included in the Addendum for Item 8 are undoubtedly flawed… I talked with Commissioner Conley this morning and he directed me to pull the Presentation of the DTA Results for the SH 45 SW Sub-region (Item 8) from Monday’s agenda [emphasis in original].”[5] None of the “City of Austin staff” or “CAMPO staff” was named. No record or transcript was provided for the conversation between McCoy and Conley.

The record we obtained does not show that the CAMPO staff ever got to the bottom of the so-called “errors.” Instead, their overwhelming preoccupation became PR damage control.[6]

There was an attempt to produce a sufficient explanation to appease CAMPO board members Cynthia Long and Karen Huber.[7] However, Daniel Yang knew that the explanation offered was oversimplified and so incomplete as to be incorrect.[8]

The one clear assertion of substantive “error” was that the future growth projections for some of the relevant “traffic analysis zones” that would feed traffic onto the proposed SH 45 SW were too low. However, the ideology of “build all roads everywhere” has painted the proponents of 45 SW into a logical corner. If the CAMPO projections for 2025 undercount the future traffic, this means their planned roadway expansions will do even less to alleviate congestion than they are already predicted to do. The case for 45 in terms of helping Brodie Lane or any other roadway becomes even less persuasive.

If on the other hand, the 2025 projections systematically overcount traffic, then congestion on the assumed roadway network presumably is less. Yet, this doesn’t change the fact that Mopac is worse than it otherwise would have been without 45 being built, and Brodie Lane likewise receives no measurable improvement over the current status quo.

As concerned citizens know, pro-SH45SW Gerald Daugherty defeated incumbent and SH45SW skeptic Karen Huber last November for the western Travis County seat on the Travis County Commissioners Court. Commissioner Huber lost by a very small margin – attributed more to redistricting allocating a much larger (and motivated Republican) voter base than to any “mandate” in favor of SH45 SW. SH45SW is not a “Republican v. Democrat” issue, although Republican voters due tend to be less concerned about environmental and neighborhood harm that may come from large development projects.

KML continues to gather information and will post additional information very soon.

But here is a fun one for now: check out this short video of water swirling into Flintridge Cave during a major rain storm. If built, SH 45 SW would cross directly over the cave, with polluted highway runoff flowing directly into the Edwards Aquifer and on to Barton Springs. It’s hard to imagine a worse route for a new highway, tolled or untolled.

 

APPENDIX
Summary Minutes of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board Meeting

Monday, September 10, 2012, 6:00 PM
Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium, 2405 Robert Dedman Drive, University of Texas at Austin Campus, Austin, Texas 78705

8. Presentation on results of Dynamic Traffic Assignment modeling for the southwest Travis County/northern Hays County subregion.

This item was pulled from the agenda because the modeling work was flawed. Commissioner Conley asked staff to give a brief explanation. Maureen McCoy explained that the modeling effort began in April. CTR staff thought that they could have the modeling done by August 31st. It was not done by then, but was completed a few days later so staff issued an addendum that included the modeling information. City of Austin staff did a quality check and found a fatal flaw. Staff did not do a quality check on the demographics for 2010 and 2025. There were areas that lost population, which is not supposed to happen. Staff notified the Chair immediately, and the Chair directed staff to withdraw the item. Ms. McCoy indicated that she thought that the model work could be fixed and done right, but it would take a couple of months.

Commissioner Conley apologized to the public, noting that CAMPO should always put out credible information. He asked for a 5-member working committee, chaired by Commissioner Long, to investigate the incident from top to bottom. He indicated the committee should determine where the ball was dropped and how to ensure that it does not happen again. He asked for Board members to contact him if they want to serve on the committee. He also explained that the City of Austin request to take 45 SW out of the Plan is a separate issue from the modeling work. The modeling work was being conducted to assist Hays and Travis County work on common issues. The City of Austin request came through their long range plan. Council Member Riley asked about timing. Ms. McCoy explained that the Board is scheduled to act on the amendments at the October 8th meeting, but that it is up to the Board whether they act on some or all of the amendments at that time. The TIP amendments are more time critical.

APPENDIX
 MISSING FROM CAMPO’S RESPONSE TO PIR

a) Transcript of public comments regarding transportation plan amendments made during public hearings held on or after July 1, 2012 (first request made in the SOSA’s PIR)

b) Is there a transcript record of what Commissioner Conley and Maureen McCoy said to each other on Friday, September 7, 2012 regarding the SH 45 item scheduled for September 10th?

c) Which City of Austin staff persons approached which CAMPO staff persons about the alleged demographic errors in the SH 45 model runs and when? What were the cited errors?

d) Answers to the questions posed by journalist Michael Cronin [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.] in email dated Sep. 17, 2012, namely:

  1. 1.What entities paid for the report?
  2. 2.How much was the total, and how much did each entity spend on the report?

Cronin also requested “a copy of the traffic study regarding the possible 45 Tollway that was released earlier this month and then rescinded due to data flaws.”

e) Missing weblinks and attached documents referenced in the following:

     3/5/12 email Yang to Duthie, et al, Subject: SH 45 runs
     Excel spread sheet: Options of SH 45 runs with pros and cons

     8/10/12 Greathouse to Goldman, et al, Subject: Plan Amendments
     Excel spread sheet

     9/18/12 Zamorano to McCoy et al
     Attached: memo from the City of Buda regarding the modeling for SH 45 (SW) segment

     11/28/12 Banks to Xie, cc: Yang
     2010 version of demographic allocation tool saved in a folder on the CAMPO server.

     9/18/12 Gutshall to Greathouse
     Attached: Draft Annexations 2012 Map_ATD_9.17.12.pdf

     9/18/12 Memo from the City of Buda regarding the modeling for SH 45 (SW) segment

     4/10/12 email ‘CAMPO scanner’ to Banks
     SH 45 Powerpoint

f) Technical Advisory Committee minutes for meeting of 9/26/12


[1] See Folder 6, zip file “29_SH 45 SOS Maps.” Hereafter “6:Maps.” Scenarios are: No Build; Non Toll 2 Lane; Non toll 4 Lane; Toll 4 Lane. There are separate maps for each scenario’s morning, midday, afternoon, and night (totals sixteen maps).

[2] 6: Maps. Compare ‘volume to capacity ratios’ (colorcoded) of each scenario for either the AM or PM rush hour.

[3]Folder 1: 3.pdf. Hereafter, “[folder] number: [pdf] number. Pix Howell (City of Leander) to A. Zamorano, cc: CAMPO board, 9/ 5/12, “Re: CAMPO: September 10th addendum for Item 8.” Howell says, “The modeling will be like looking at a room through a keyhole in the door, without Sh45 going over to IH-35.”

[4] 13:21. M. McCoy (CAMPO) to J. Mills, 9/6/12, “RE: CAMPO TPB Meeting – SH 45” quotes Terry McCoy (TxDOT), “Although we have been working to determine the logical eastern terminus, a decision has not yet been reached on this issue…Consideration is being afforded to extending the project to IH 35.”

[5] See 1:5, for one among several duplicates of the same email.

[6] See examples: 6:8, Yang to GIS Staff, McCoy, Needham, 9/19/12, “Communications on the SH 45 SW demographics and the Tool.” 10:27, Yang to McCoy, Hernandez, & Needham, 9/17/12, “Questions for Story.” McCoy to Yang, cc: Needham, 9/19/12 “RE: Explanations of errors in SH 45 SW Demographics.”

[7] 10:23 or 7:9, page 2. D. Yang to K. Banks, 9/16/2012. cc: M. McCoy, B. Needham. “Subject: Recent 2025 demographics for SH 45 SW.”

[8] 13:28. Yang to McCoy, Needham. September 18, 2012, “Explanations of errors in SH 45 SW demographics.” See also 7:9.

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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