Key things to know as trial begins over Texas 45 Southwest, MoPac


Trial will begin Wednesday over environmentalists’ challenge to Texas 45 Southwest, South MoPac projects.

Save Our Springs and other plaintiffs argue the three road projects’ impact should have been studied as one.

A judge who heard arguments in this case last fall allowed construction of Texas 45 Southwest to proceed.

A challenge by environmentalists to the construction of three highway projects in Southwest Austin comes before a federal court Wednesday, the culmination of decades-long resistance to building Texas 45 Southwest. Here are some key things to know about the dispute:

• Who’s involved: The challenge was filed in February 2016 by a dozen plaintiffs, including the Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association, Clean Water Action, singer Jerry Jeff Walker and former Austin Mayors Frank Cooksey and Carole Keeton.

• The central argument: The plaintiffs contend the Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority should have conducted a single environmental study on the three projects: the Texas 45 Southwest tollway, an underpass project on South MoPac Boulevard near Circle C, and proposed toll lanes on South MoPac. Instead, each project was reviewed separately.

• Why that matters: The plaintiffs say that reviewing all three together would force TxDOT to analyze how the projects affect each other — Texas 45 Southwest will generate additional traffic on South MoPac, for instance, and vice versa. From the highway builders’ standpoint, a judgment ordering a single environmental study would, at the least, shut down Texas 45 Southwest construction and delay the other projects for several years.

• An early indication: U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel heard arguments in October for a temporary injunction and decided to let land-clearing proceed for Texas 45 Southwest. He found the plaintiffs had “failed to establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of their lawsuit, a ruling that was upheld on appeal.

• What’s still at stake: The land-clearing is finished along the 3.6-mile-long route and construction has begun on Texas 45 Southwest. But the plaintiffs argue that environmental damage will continue throughout construction and after the tollway opens, so their lawsuit hasn’t been rendered moot.

• The other two projects: Construction of the South MoPac underpasses won’t begin until at least May, pending the result of this lawsuit and talks with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prompted by a separate legal challenge. The South MoPac toll project has been delayed indefinitely by the lawsuit.

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