Ruling allows Texas 45 Southwest tollway roadwork to begin


A federal judge in Austin has denied an injunction in the Texas 45 Southwest case, allowing construction to begin on the tollway.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will build and operate the 3.6-mile, four-lane road connecting FM 1626 to South MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1).

Ruling a week after an all-day hearing on the injunction requested by the Save Our Springs Alliance and 11 other plaintiffs, Judge Lee Yeakel said in his 14-page ruling that the plaintiffs had “failed to establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of their claim.

The lawsuit, filed in February against the mobility authority and the Texas Department of Transportation, argued that the two agencies violated federal environmental law by doing separate environmental studies on Texas 45 Southwest, the MoPac “intersections” project and proposed toll lanes on South MoPac from the river to south of Davis Lane.

The arguments at the Oct. 12 injunction hearing concentrated on the underlying law, becoming in effect a mini-trial before Yeakel, because one of the key standards for granting an injunction and preventing the start of construction on Texas 45 Southwest is that the plaintiffs have a reasonable chance to win the case in the end.

Yeakel, in his order, said the authority and TxDOT “have complied with all applicable federal regulations governing the construction.” Given that, he wrote, he did not need to consider and rule on other arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case.

Lawyers for the two agencies had said Oct. 12 that they wanted to begin removing vegetation on the right of way for the road construction no later than Nov. 8 so as to have time to complete the clearing work before the early spring, when endangered golden cheeked warblers return from their southern migration.

The heavily wooded site in Southwest Travis County and northern Hays County is adjacent to city of Austin preserve land that is considered habitat for the warbler. And Flint Ridge Cave, just a few hundred feet for where the road is to be built, is home to protected cave spiders and considered a conduit for rain water to Barton Springs pool. All three proposed road projects at issue in the case lie over the recharge zone of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.

TxDOT and the mobility authority, which originally had intended to build the $109 million road using TxDOT money, at least in part, considered to be federal in origin, about three years ago instead decided to use only state tax money along with $20 million in Hays and Travis County contributions. That allowed the agency to conduct a state environmental review of Texas 45 Southwest rather than one under the National Environmental Policy Act. TxDOT has the final say in both cases about whether an environmental study passes muster.

TxDOT did a federal review of the intersections project, which involves building South MoPac underpasses at Slaughter Lane and La Crosse Avenue, thus extending the freeway section all the way to MoPac’s south end. That review was approved in late 2015 and construction could start on that as early as next spring.

The federal environmental study of the South MoPac toll lanes projects, begun more than two years ago, has been on hold pending the results of the lawsuit.

The SOS Alliance could not immediately be reached for comment.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Iran tests new ballistic missile
Iran tests new ballistic missile

Iran tested a new ballistic missile that reportedly is capable of carrying multiple warheads, CNN reported Saturday, citing the nation's state-run broadcaster announced. >> Read more trending news “Iran has released footage of the successful test-launch of its new ballistic missile, Khorramshahr, a few hours after it was unveiled during...
Memo: Seattle officer bragged that 'mini Mafia' controlled off-duty contracts
Memo: Seattle officer bragged that 'mini Mafia' controlled off-duty contracts

As an FBI investigation into Seattle’s off-duty police work unfolds, additional claims of questionable tactics by officers have emerged, including a report that one policeman proudly called his fellow officers a “mini Mafia” in the way they secured, enforced, and collected on private security and traffic contracts in the booming city...
Trump touts transparency on Twitter
Trump touts transparency on Twitter

President Donald Trump has no intention of scaling back his Twitter presence.  >> Read more trending news The president, campaigning for fellow Republican Luther Strange in Alabama on Friday night, touted his provocative and sometimes controversial tweets, CNN reported. "That is the great thing about Twitter," Trump said during...
Texas students told ‘It’s the law’ to stand for Pledge of Allegiance
Texas students told ‘It’s the law’ to stand for Pledge of Allegiance

A presentation telling students that they have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance because it's the law has caused controversy at a Texas high school, the Houston Chronicle reported. >> Read more trending news  Juniors and seniors at Midland High School were given a presentation on the Pledge of Allegiance earlier this month...
Police: New Orleans mayoral candidate facing lewd conduct charge
Police: New Orleans mayoral candidate facing lewd conduct charge

A New Orleans mayoral candidate was arrested on a charge of lewd conduct after police said he was found with his pants pulled down in the back of an Uber in Santa Monica, Calif., Nola.com reported. >> Read more trending news Frank Scurlock was picked up on a charge of public masturbation in February, police said. Terry White, a deputy...
More Stories