The long-planned and controversial Texas 45 Southwest tollway may get the backing of Travis County commissioners.
The commissioners on Tuesday are set to reverse a 2010 decision, nearly a year after the proposed 3.6-mile toll road’s most vocal supporter was elected to represent the precinct in which it would be built. Three of the five commissioners told the American-Statesman on Friday they plan to vote for a measure supporting building 45 Southwest.
In the past 10 months, Gerald Daugherty has been working with officials including those with the Texas Department of Transportation to move the project along. Daugherty, who also served as commissioner from 2002 to 2008, represents rapidly growing western Travis County. Supporters say the four-lane tollway would provide a vital link from the southern end of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) to FM 1626 in Hays County.
The road has been opposed by environmentalists because it would traverse the recharge zone of the Barton Springs portion of the Edwards Aquifer and habitat for rare species.
But the tollway would help ease congestion in southern Travis and northern Hays counties including Brodie Lane, according to a TxDOT document about the project published last month. Population in the area around the road is projected to increase 86 percent to 93,000 from 2010 to 2035, leading to a similar increase in the number of cars on roads in the area, according to the document.
“I just think that you procedurally need to get as many things lined up that prove up or indicate support,” Daugherty said.
In November, Daugherty beat then-Commissioner Karen Huber, promising to get the road built. Huber said she wanted more study on the road and won the support of environmentalists and groups seeking to limit growth in the area.
“I believe that the historical decisions of 45 Southwest that have been made were based more on emotion than good information and data,” Huber said on Friday, referring to past support for the highway.
In June, TxDOT started a two-year study of the project’s environmental effects, a necessary move before it could be built.
Recent estimates from the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which operates area toll roads, put 45 Southwest’s price tag at $75 million to $100 million, Daugherty said. He said he’s not favoring an interim plan to build a two-lane version of the highway financed by Travis and Hays counties.
Since the 2010 vote, the Commissioners Court lost two significant environmental stalwarts in Huber and Sarah Eckhardt, who resigned in May to run for county judge. Eckhardt was replaced by Bruce Todd, who said he will vote Tuesday in favor of building the toll road. County Judge Sam Biscoe said he also expects support the measure. Commissioner Margaret Gómez was absent from the 2010 vote and said she was not sure how she would vote Tuesday. Commissioner Ron Davis has said he will miss Tuesday’s meeting.
The road has remained part of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s $28.6 billion plan for future transportation infrastructure in and around Austin by 2035. Huber, who was on the organization’s 19-member board, was one of just two votes against keeping it on the long-range plan.
A big environmental question for the road has centered around whether a protected cave, home to threatened species of spiders and salamanders near the highway’s right-of-way would be in danger. The mouth of Flint Ridge Cave, part of the federally permitted Balcones Canyonland Preserve, is just 200 feet from the road and that proximity has prompted concerns about pollution from the highway entering the Edwards Aquifer and harming those creatures.
“Obviously, there are some environmental issues that need to be addressed, but I think 45 is something that ought to be part of our roadway plan,” Todd said.
Daugherty said he is hopeful construction on 45 Southwest could start in 2015.