Tuesday, August 28, 2007

CAMPO board member Daugherty pushes more toll roads to help his developer friends

Push for extension of SH 45 south of Oak Hill on the horizon

August 28, 2007

by Kate Harrington
Austin Business Journal
Copyright 2007

As the summer winds down and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization comes closer to its much-anticipated Oct. 8 vote on road infrastructure, attention in Austin's transportation community has turned to potential road expansions and additions.

But there may still be plenty of proposed road to debate over after CAMPO's transportation infrastructure plan vote, thanks to an additional stretch of State Highway 45 in Far South Austin that is being proposed by Oak Hill-area neighborhood groups and supported by Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty.

The proposed piece of SH 45, which has been informally dubbed SH 45 West, is not a completely new concept -- it made an appearance in CAMPO's plans in 1984 but was dropped in the early 1990s. The most recent proposal would bring back a piece of SH 45 into CAMPO's road plan, a proposed stretch that would connect FM 1826 to U.S. Highway 290.

"I think it could make a great difference," Daugherty says of the proposed extension of SH 45. "Anything that could get you to connect from one major road to another major road [is significant] -- unless you think Dripping Springs and that area that's growing leaps and bounds is going to stop growing."

Mike Aulick, executive director of CAMPO, says it's too early to know what kind of impact the proposed piece of road could have. But with increasing residential growth west of Austin, transportation plays a role in the area's growth, some analysts say. Eldon Rude, director of Metrostudy's Austin division, says an extension of SH 45 from FM 1826 to U.S. 290 would significantly open up the 290 corridor and the Dripping Springs area to future interest in development along those corridors.

Daugherty says the proposed piece could generate controversy because it would run near environmentally sensitive land, and adds that conversations won't start in earnest until after CAMPO's October vote. Bob Daigh, lead Austin engineer with the Texas Department of Transportation, says any project constructed near or over the Edward's Aquifer, including this one, has more intense environmental challenges than construction that takes place in other regions.

But with growth spreading in all directions around Austin, Daugherty says the proposed road could take some of the strain off the U.S. 290 and State Highway 71 convergence in Oak Hill, and help address increasing mobility challenges west of Austin.

Its inclusion in CAMPO's long-range plan wouldn't identify a funding mechanism for the proposed road, although Rick Perkins, president of the Granada homeowners association, a group supporting the proposed SH 45 West, says it would likely be tolls that would pay for the road.

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