Environmentalist put major highway project on trial

A major highway project in South Austin went on trial Wednesday. Environmentalists want to shut down the SH 45 SW project claiming it will do more harm than good.

As traffic merged on to South MoPac from 45 W, clearing continues for what's intended to be phase one of SH 45 SW. The roadway is designed to provide a major connector into South Austin and northern Hays County for commuters. But inside the federal courthouse Wednesday morning, environmentalists, including Bill Bunch with Save Our Springs, asked Judge Lee Yeakel to hit the brakes.

"Austin deserves an honest comprehensive study on whether we are going to convert MoPac into a second interstate 35 through the city,” said Bunch.

SH 45 SW is being built as a tollway by CTRMA and is designed to connect with MoPac in a sweeping intersection. From there, it will link up to two other separate projects. One involves building overpasses at Slaughter Lane and La Crosse Ave. The other is a tolled expressway to downtown. Individual impact studies were done for each project but environmentalist argued all three should've been assessed as one.

"You chop it into small pieces then you say each piece is insignificant and you completely defeat and alternatives analysis that ask any sort of meaningful question,” said Bunch.

Attorneys for TX DOT and the CTRMA argued each project need it its own impact assessment and construction should begin because no rules were violated.

"The conclusion of these experts is that because of the improvements and technology in the decade since MoPac was originally built if the intersection improvement is built the water leaving that area will be cleaner than the water leaving that area now,” said CTRMA lawyer Casey Dobson.

Attorneys for the environmentalists claim the three projects will do more harm than good.        

They predict traffic will back up on MoPac near downtown - commute times will only improve by 2 to 3 minutes and that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center would be adversely impacted by traffic noise.

In response to that the attorneys for the roadbuilders said the claims of harm, by those who object to the project, are not based in reality but are speculation. A ruling may take several weeks.

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