by BRAD ROLLINS
Editor and Publisher
A divided Hays County commissioners court approved a resolution on Tuesday asking the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to leave Texas 45 Southwest in its 25-year master plan. A week ago commissioners’ counterparts in Travis County urged CAMPO to do the opposite.
After more than hour of discussion, the Hays County commissioners court voted 3-2 in favor of including SH 45 in future construction programs with Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe joining commissioners Jeff Barton and Will Conley, who co-sponsored the resolution.
“The road won’t solve every problem but it will reduce congestion, improve safety, ease air pollution and meet long-standed commitments to neighborhoods. … I wish we could built it tomorrow but if we don’t, to take it out of the 25-year plan is just nonsense,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, whose precinct includes Buda and Kyle and who served on special CAMPO committee last year that studied how to finance SH 45 SW.
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 obligations bonds earmarked for the projects and, in 2003, that county completed purchase of the necessary right-of-way for the road’s intended alignment.
Nevertheless, Sumter and Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford voted against SH 45’s inclusion in the CAMPO 2035 plan, arguing that the region has more pressing infrastructure needs. Their talking points sounded similar to those proffered by Travis County Commissioner Karen Huber last week when she infuriated many of her constituents by sponsoring a resolution recommending SH 45 SW be jettisoned.
The Travis County commissioners court approved Huber’s resolution 3-1 thereby asking CAMPO to remove the road from its plans. Only Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, also the CAMPO board chair, opposed SH 45’s exclusion.
It’s not the first time Travis County leaders have weighed in against a project previously planned and which Hays County leaders consider vital. In December, the Travis County court approved a resolution that opposed widening FM 1626 in Hays County during a period when Hays County officials were seeking environmental clearance for the project from state and federal regulators.
Huber and Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, both of whom sit on the CAMPO board, are expected to offer an amendment stripping the road from the organization’s program when the 19-member CAMPO transportation board meets May 24. Barton said he anticipates the board will leave SH 45 SW in tact but urged residents to turn out in support of the project.
Barton is Hays County’s CAMPO alternate but he’ll have no vote in the matter unless Sumter doesn’t show up on May 24. Should she be present, Conley said, “I hope Judge Sumter will respect the three senior members of the court and vote the way of resolution.”
In addition to SH 45 SW, the Hays County Commissioners Court is asking CAMPO to consider inclusion of 13 transportation projects totaling $473 million, many of which appear in the 2030 plan but not the 2035 draft.
These include widening parts of U.S. 290, Texas 21, Ranch Road 12, RM 150, and the Old Bastrop Highway and, in Kyle, building a new loop around the city. The court is also asking for inclusion of Onion Creek and Plum Creek hike and bike trails and environmental and preliminary engineering studies for Texas 45 Southwest between FM 1626 and Interstate 35, which would adjoining the existing segment of SH 45 that connects to the Texas 130 toll road around the eastern edge of Austin.
For the projects to be considered for inclusion, Hays County must demonstrate its capacity to pay for them sometime in the next quarter century although officials hastened to add that the county and its cities will not necessarily foot all the bill on all the projects.
Hays County has the potential bonding capacity for $533.7 million in the next 25 years, according to numbers compiled by Mike Aulick, the former longtime CAMPO executive director whom the county is employing as a consultant on transportation projects. The city of Kyle, which share the costs on its loop project, has bonding capacity during the same period of $87 million, CAMPO staff estimates.
» Draft CAMPO 2035 master plan [pdf]Email | Print