San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

by BRAD ROLLINS

Hays County will chip in $5 million to help Travis County build the long awaited SH 45 SW, which would connect the MoPac Expressway in Austin with FM 1626 in Hays County, under a proposal made this morning.

Hays commissioners at their regular meeting on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution that both pledges the funds and asks the state to remove the road from its own drawing board and instead let Travis County build it as a county road.

The tough part might be getting Travis County commissioners to go along despite the apparent support of Judge Sam Biscoe. Yielding to environmentalists’ concerns, Travis County commissioners in May 2010 asked the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to remove SH 45 SW from its 25-year master plan with only Biscoe dissenting.

Resizing the road to a two- to three-lane county road, instead of a four- or six-lane major highway, will slash the project’s pricetag — from as much as $92 million to as little as $20 million. It will also allow the counties to forgo a lengthy federal environmental review process like the one that has kept a widening of FM 1626 in Hays County in limbo for years.

As it had been planned, SH 45 SW “in all likelihood would not have been done at any time in the near future and by near future I mean the next 10 to 20 years,” said Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley, who holds Hays County’s lone seat on the CAMPO board. “I think we’ve come up with a reasonable, practical, affordable solution where we can be out turning dirt hopefully in the next year.”

Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones, a Kyle Republican who represents Hays County’s burgeoning suburban communities clustered near the Travis County line, said the anticipated widening of FM 1626 will be far less effective without construction of SH 45 SW.

“Without SH 45, you lose the benefit of 1626. It will still bottleneck at Brodie Lane,” Jones said.

In 2007, an average of 14,100 drivers per day crossed the Hays-Travis county line on FM 1626, according to CAMPO traffic counts, en route to or from home and work. CAMPO planners expect that number to grow to 40,500 by 2015 and 48,500 by 2030.

SH 45 SW has been in various stages of planning since at least 1985, when the Texas Transportation Commission approved a minute order establishing SH 45 as an outer parkway circumventing Austin. In 1997, Travis County voters approved $3.3 million in general obligation bonds earmarked for the projects and, in 2003, that Travis and Hays counties completed purchase of the necessary right-of-way for the road’s intended alignment.

In order to complete SH 45 SW as a county road, the state would have to agree to give Travis County back the right-of-way.

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