Environmental groups and local citizens have teamed up to put the brakes on the State Highway 45 SW and Mopac Improvement project.
A lawsuit filed Thursday against the Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority seeks to stop the projects until a cumulative environmental impact study is completed.
The Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association, former Austin Mayor Carole Keeton and other groups have teamed up to delay the Mopac Improvement and SH 45 SW projects from moving forward.
“So they've got to slow this process down and do it right for the future and future generations,” said Keeton.
The lawsuit filed in federal court claims TX-DOT and the CTRMA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by conducting environmental impact studies in three separate pieces.
“They need to look at the whole project at once, not break it into parts. That whole 14-mile project, you need to look at the environmental impact and what collectively that's going to do to the environment,” Keeton said.
“The environmental aspects of both the Loop 1 South and 45 have been the highest order throughout the study period,” said Mike Heiligenstein with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.
Plaintiffs said the projects could have a negative impact on the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer, endangered species and erosion.
“The beauty of Austin and what keeps Austin, Austin, it's great to have paychecks and jobs and we absolutely want to be able to get from here to there, but our environment is critically important too,” said Keeton.
“We don't think it will have a significant impact anywhere along this roadway. In fact, I think there is a chance we can improve water quality,” Heiligenstein said.
The CTRMA said impacts to the environment have been studied as required by the Environmental Policy Act and while the environment is a big concern moving forward, congestion on Mopac and SH 45 is also a major issue for commuters.
“I think it's just very disingenuous that those people don't deserve some consideration also. I think we have given the environment all the consideration it needs to be protected. They need to give the people who work in Austin some consideration in the work that they do trying to get back and forth from their homes,” said Heiligenstein.
Another concern plaintiffs brought up is that the project at SH 45 SW could add thousands of cars to the area.
In December, TX-DOT released results of an environmental study that, "found no significant impact." CTRMA said the final environmental document should be completed in June.
The Mopac Improvement Project is expected to be completed in November.