Philosophers who strive to measure eternity need only come to Austin for the answer. Eternity is the length of time it takes us to make a decision about infrastructure.
As the American-Statesman’s Farzad Mashhood reported in Wednesday’s editions, Travis County commissioners voted to abide by votes counted 16 years ago to build 3.6 miles of road connecting the southern end of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) with FM 1626 in Hays County. The Texas 45 Southwest project has been the subject of a seemingly eternal struggle ever since. Commissioners voted 4-0 on Tuesday to proceed with road construction, but that certainly isn’t the end of the story.
As Mashhood noted, the affirmative votes cast by County Judge Sam Biscoe, Precinct 2 Commissioner Bruce Todd, Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez and Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty could be changed by next year’s election results. Biscoe has announced his retirement. Todd is also a short timer, filling the unexpired term of Sarah Eckhardt, who is running to replace Biscoe. Eckhardt and Andy Brown, who has also mounted a campaign for county judge, expressed opposition to the road — embraced by area neighborhoods but opposed by Austin environmental groups.
The winner of the Democratic primary will be the favorite to win in November and that and results in the Precinct 2 commissioner race will change the dynamic enough to set up the road for more delays.
Primaries are in March, the general election is in November and the new members of the commissioners court will take office Jan. 1, 2015.
So, next year’s elections could not only overturn the Tuesday vote by commissioners but also the 1997 vote to approve the bonds for the roadway if the project is successfully delayed.
Daugherty wondered aloud whether a 17-year delay in implementing a voter-approved environmental initiative would be tolerated. It’s a rhetorical question but a good one and one that doesn’t require much head scratching to answer.
That short stretch of proposed road has a long history. Southwest Travis County residents complained then and complain now about commuters from Hays County en route to Austin jobs cutting through their neighborhoods. The proposed toll road was thought to be the answer to their concerns, and the election in 1997 might have been the end of the matter anywhere else.
Daugherty, a Republican who represents the area, was a staunch advocate for the road. He was elected in 2002 but defeated by Democrat Karen Huber in 2008. In 2010, the new commissioner was successful in withdrawing county support for Texas 45 Southwest but unsuccessful in removing the roadway from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range transportation plan.
Huber’s attempt to stifle the project infuriated neighborhood groups and Daugherty seized on that ire in his comeback race in 2012. The road decision was a factor in Huber’s defeat and Daugherty has put his considerable focus on getting the toll road built.
Tuesday’s vote was a reaffirmation of the 1997 election results, but even that doesn’t guarantee the road is going to be built if commissioners delay on translating the 4-0 vote (Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis was absent) into action.
Daugherty noted that he told road proponents after the Tuesday vote that there is much to be done before construction actually starts and before the turnover on the court in January 2015.
Infrastructure debates are always contentious in Austin but the argument over whether Texas 45 Southwest should be built should have been settled when election results were announced in 1997.
We’ve talked about it long enough. It’s time to get work started on this road and give those neighbors some relief.