One sight of Spring Lake, source of the San Marcos River. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
A regional transportation planning organization is receiving objections from some San Marcos residents and two local environmental groups regarding the extension of Craddock Avenue.
The four-lane Craddock Avenue extension is proposed to stretch from RR 12 and cross Lime Kiln Road to Post Road, and thence to Interstate-35. The road’s opponents maintain that the extension will encourage too much development in an area where they say more construction and vehicular traffic may pollute Spring Lake, source of the San Marcos River.
Proponents of the road say it will lessen current traffic in the area of Lime Kiln Road and Post Road and mitigate health and safety problems arising from two low water crossings on Lime Kiln that they say become impassable with moderate rainfall. Proponents of the Craddock Avenue extension near Lime Kiln Road say reconstruction of the low water crossings would create more environmental harm than construction of the disputed roadway.
The Craddock Avenue extension appears in the draft version of the Capital Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (CAMPO) 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, a document updated every five years and required in order for local governments to receive federal funds from the CAMPO. The Craddock Avenue extension consists of three segments, each of which appears in the plan as a 100 percent, locally-funded project. CAMPO anticipates no federal funds will be available for the projects in the next 25 years. CAMPO expects the three segments to collectively cost $93.6 million and be needed between 2025 and 2035.
“Our reason for opposing it is that Sink Creek pours straight into Spring Lake,” said San Marcos River Foundation Executive Director Dianne Wassenich. “So we cannot build roads and develop in that area and keep our river clean.”
Wassenich said her group plans to send scientific dye tracing studies to CAMPO before the public comment period ends on Friday.
“They just tell you how quickly anything that runs into the aquifer comes out of the springs,” Wassenich said of the dye tracing studies. “Like hours — within hours.”
Eight plant and animal species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act are sustained by Spring Lake and the San Marcos River. Wassenich said more development in the area near Sink Creek and Spring Lake would mean more sediment and pollutants entering the San Marcos River from vehicles and construction activity, imperiling the species.
“In San Marcos, we don’t have a very good record at doing erosion control that works,” Wassenich said. “Have you looked at Sessom Creek lately? Oh, my God.”
Sessom Creek runs along and under Sessom Drive and into the San Marcos River. Sediment from the construction activity along Sessom Drive may be contributing to the sandbar growing in the San Marcos River near Saltgrass Steakhouse. Wassenich said more construction in the area may threaten a repeat for San Marcos of what happened when out-of-control runoff polluted Hamilton Pool and Lick Creek in Travis County.
However, said City of San Marcos Assistant Director of Public Services Sabas Avila, “The Craddock extension would have less environmental and regulatory impacts than reconstructing the two existing low-water crossings across the environmentally sensitive Sink Creek. The proposed Craddock extension is further away from the environmentally-sensitive Sink Creek and historic state landmark, the old Lime Kiln structure. In order to reconstruct the old bridges, a new roadway and bridge would have to be constructed, which will increase the footprint of the project, as well as the environmental and regulatory requirements.”
Avila said the only ingress and egress point for a large residential zone in the Lime Kiln area becomes impassable when there is moderate rainfall. Avila said the impassibility “creates a public health and safety issue.” Avila said planning for the Craddock Avenue extension is necessitated by significant increases in traffic on Aquarena Springs Drive and Post Road projected in the next 20 years, and the need to “provide a blueprint for orderly development of the city’s roadways and infrastructure.”
The San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance (SMGA) also sent comments to CAMPO regarding the Craddock Avenue Extension. SMGA argues that the extension conflicts with the Greenprint for Growth map finished for Hays County in November. The county paid $50,000 in 2008 to the Central Texas Greenprint for Growth project, overseen by Trust for Public Land (TPL), Envision Central Texas (ECT), and the Capitol Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG). The Greenprint consists of interactive Geographic Information System (GIS) maps depicting the region’s land conservation priorities based on input obtained from residents, business owners, elected officials, government agencies and local experts between May 2008 and June 2009.
The draft version of the CAMPO 2035 plan includes an Environmental Sensitivity Analysis (ESA), derived from EPA’s Geographical Information System Screening Tool (GISST), which assesses potential effects of transportation improvements by combining various environmental features into one mapped data set with a weighted scoring structure.
According to their draft 2035 plan, CAMPO planners extracted information about the five-county region from the GISST, applied it to the region’s transportation network, and combined the data with the 2008 Vacant Land Inventory and with information from the Texas Historical Commission (THC). THC monitors recognized state and national historic resources.
CAMPO Principal Planner Stevie Greathouse said Thursday that CAMPO’s ESA map and the Greenprint use some of the same data about natural features.
“The maps were developed in different ways using slightly different sets of data,” Greathouse said. “We also have the Greenprint map and definitely comments have come in with proposed modification of our plan to include the Greenprint map.”
Greathouse said the reason CAMPO did not include the Greenprint in the draft 2035 transportation plan is because it omits data from Williamson County, the only CAMPO member county that declined to participate in the Greenprint project. Greathouse said CAMPO staff is “supportive” of including the Greenprint in the final 2035 transportation plan and will consider its results.
“Once you start actually developing a project, picking out a specific alignment and figuring out what the design features and stormwater features and everything that go with the project are, you’d have to pull in much more detailed data than either of these maps are going to provide for you,” Greathouse said.
In opposing the Craddock Avenue extension near Lime Kiln Road, SMGA maintains that the Wonder World Drive extension will provide the access to communities on the south side of the city, and alleges that building over the the terrain planned for the roadway would be expensive and difficult. SMGA advises waiting for results from the Upper San Marcos Watershed Protection Plan, currently in development, before including the Craddock Avenue extension in any long range transportation plan.
According to City of San Marcos Capital Improvements Department spokesperson Kristy Stark, no construction schedule has been set for the Craddock Avenue extension.
“There is no earmark for city funding of this proposed roadway – it will be totally development/developer driven and those doing the development would shoulder the cost,” Stark said. “If there is no growth or development in these areas, then there will be no need for these proposed roadways. If the roadway is built, the city would own and maintain the roadway following construction.”
Should a Windemere development proposed near Spring Lake Preserve be built, then city planners may take the increased traffic into account when considering whether to build the portion of the Craddock Avenue extension proposed between RR 12 and Lime Kiln Road. Construction of that portion — the R-2 project — would serve as one access point to Windemere.
Austinites Rob Haug and Vince Wood propose Windemere as a primarily residential subdivision with some mixed use elements near Lime Kiln Road. Lime Kiln Road would serve as the other access point to Windemere, which would fulfill the city’s requirement that there be two points of access to a development of 75 or more lots. However, Haug and Wood may not need to wait for the Craddock extension to be built if they build a divided boulevard to link the Windemere with Lime Kiln road.
In March, Haug said he and Wood were putting together the final concept plan, which the city has not received. San Marcos Assistant City Manager Laurie Moyer indicated in December that the developers intend to build a divided boulevard. Haug was not immediately available for comment and Wood declined to offer a statement.
The existence of the Windemere development depends on the construction of a wastewater line the city plans to install from North LBJ Drive to Lime Kiln Road. The city is also acquiring 60 feet of right of way for a road under which the wastewater line would be buried. The Windemere developers would be able to use at least part of the road right of way provided by the city, though they would need to buy more for the divided boulevard.
The proposed wastewater line runs through property owned by Paul Geiger, who recently received the city’s final offer to buy the easement and right of way and said he expects the city to seize part of his land. Moyer told city councilmembers in December that the city is seeking to buy road right of way now rather than later out of respect to landowners, who, she said, would generally rather be “worked with” once.
City staffers have told councilmembers that the wastewater line has been in the works since 1995 and is being installed to put a stop to overflow events, accommodate the expansion of Texas State, and facilitate only as much growth as specified by the city’s Future Land Use Map. The concept plan for Windemere that appeared before city council in June 2009 specifies a greater density for the area than specified in the city’s Future Land Use Map.
Staff has said the timing of the project’s implementation has not been affected by Windemere Development. The concept plan that appeared about a year ago at a city council meeting indicated Windemere would involve more than 250 structures, most of which would be residential.
Windemere Ranch was one of five Sink Creek-area properties submitted by SMRF on behalf of Haug and Wood for sale to the county as endangered bird habitat. In March, the property was one of six front-runners being considered by Hays County commissioners for purchase pursuant to the county’s Regional Habitat Conservation Plan (RHCP). The RHCP is all but finished and awaits the approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Our project is not in the front-running anymore, and our project was five pieces of property,” Wassenich said. “One of those pieces of property was also submitted by Trust for Public Land. And I think that one was still in the running a month ago, but I have no idea if it still is now.”
Wassenich declined to indicate which Sink Creek area property was being considered for purchase by the county. County commissioners have been negotiating for RHCP land in closed executive session for the past few weeks.
Greathouse said CAMPO has received “a large number” of comments from San Marcians regarding the Craddock Avenue extension, adding that the volume of that input is “at a dead heat” with comments about SH 45 southwest, which would link FM 1626 northwest of Buda with MoPac Expressway South West. Greathouse said all public comments will be packaged in a document for the CAMPO board’s consideration before it votes on the plan.Email | Print