Expansion plans for State Highway 45 Southwest are set to continue, despite their removal from the Imagine Austin plan by the Austin City Council.
The council voted at a June 14 meeting to take out the expansion from the city’s comprehensive master plan per the recommendation of the Citizens Advisory Task Force. Mark Jones, Hays County Precinct 2 commissioner, said this does not affect the Commissioners Court’s plans for the highway expansion because Travis County will have the final say on whether it will be built.
The project is still on the table with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), allowing Hays County to continue to move forward with joint plans with Travis County.
The estimated $17 to $20 million project will connect Loop 1, also known as MoPac Expressway, to FM 1626 with a two to three lane county road.
Hays County commissioners offered to spend up to $5 million on the project last year and renewed their support of the offer in a unanimous vote during a June 12 meeting.
Jones said the Texas Department of Transportation has a plan to build a six-lane toll road covering the same stretch of land, but the county road is needed to alleviate traffic issues in Hays County sooner than the projected date of TxDOT’s construction.
“It’s still in their 2035 plans as a toll road,” Jones said. “In the future if (TxDOT) wants to expand that road, it will already be there (as a county road) and it will be a little bit easier to get it done then.”
Ray Whisenant, Precinct 4 commissioner, said the project is aimed toward safety for daily and family commuting.
The road will be a way for Hays County residents to get easier access into Austin, Jones said.
“This isn’t for future growth, this is for the growth we already have,” Jones said. “This is an important thoroughfare for people to get from Hays County to Travis County and vice versa. It’s kind of a quality of life issue – it gets people off the road where they are idling and not moving, which is causing more air pollution.”
Margaret Cooper, chair of the steering committee for Imagine Austin’s Citizens Advisory Task Force, said via email the committee was split on their decision of including the expansion project in the master plan. She said some members felt the projected traffic needs and population density over the next thirty years favored the roadway to ease congestion.
However, other members were concerned about putting a roadway over an aquifer. They felt inadequate research had been done to assess the possible environmental effects of increased traffic and pollution runoff from the roadway over time into the aquifer, Cooper said.
In addition, the increased development likely to occur as a result of the roadway located over the aquifer presented a concern to some task force members, Cooper said. A majority of the task force voted to leave the highway extension off the growth concept map.
Travis County commissioners are expected to pick up the issue in late August or September to decide whether or not to accept Hays County’s offer.