Controversial Highway Project is Going to Trial

Barton Springs Pool
Photo by Lars Plougmann, Creative Commons

It looks like the debate over several new highway projects in Austin is going to trial. At issue is SH 45 SW, a proposed toll road which would be built between MoPac Expressway and FM 1626 by two state agencies – the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA).

Environmental organizations like the Save Our Springs Alliance have raised concerns about the impact of the project on Barton Springs. The problem is that contaminants from SH 45 SW could run into the springs, potentially harming the endangered salamander species that live there, as well as the swimming areas.

What’s the background story for this case?

Earlier this year, we reported that the Save Our Springs Alliance (along with several other local environmental organizations and community leaders) filed a lawsuit against TxDOT and CTRMA, calling on them to stop construction of SH 45 SW until a more comprehensive environmental analysis could be conducted.

The lawsuit’s main contention is that SH 45 SW is only one piece of a larger project that also includes MoPac South and the MoPac South intersections project near Circle C.  Along with a second segment of SH 45 SW that is in the planning stages, the road would eventually connect MoPac to I-35.

SH 45 SW

The suit continues on to argue that TxDOT and CTRMA have violated federal environmental protection laws by artificially segmenting a much larger project into these three parts, so environmental impact studies only address each separate piece, without studying the cumulative effects of the entire project on Barton Springs.

What did the judge say? And what’s next?

After the lawsuit was filed, TxDOT and CTRMA asked for the case to be dismissed, saying that a similar issue had already been resolved (in their favor) several years earlier. Last week, a judge rejected TxDOT and CTRMA’s request, which means that the case will go to trial (although a date for that has not yet been set).

In the meantime, construction on SH 45 SW is still planned to begin in mid-October. The Save Our Springs Alliance is hoping that CTRMA will voluntarily halt construction until the trial can begin. If not, they are planning to ask a judge to step in and stop the construction.

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