Naked City

Mo' Pain over MoPac

You're a local politician. You can either satisfy the state, or mollify hordes of angry constituents. Which do you choose? At its Dec. 10 meeting, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) board chose the latter, resolving to move ahead with the second phase of its Loop 1/US 183 Improvement Study -- the long-range plan for expanding MoPac -- but only if the highway's neighbors come along for the ride.

Specifically, the local and state-elected officials who serve on the CAMPO board resolved to create a community advisory panel whose members they would appoint and direct. The panel would work alongside Texas Dept. of Transportation planners as they embark on the environmental-impact study of various alternatives for the MoPac project, which won't be completed for decades. Back in July, when TxDOT first presented its three concepts for the redesigned roadway -- each of which involved displacing hundreds of residents -- more than 900 citizens stormed the CAMPO board demanding action.

Since then, the consultants have collaborated with MoPac neighbors in exploring a fourth option: New right-of-way for high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes could come from the middle of the highway (the current Union Pacific train line) instead of from the sides. CAMPO wants to see this option refined and added to TxDOT's list of choices. The board may not move forward with the MoPac project otherwise.

"There [needs to be] more on the table than the three ideas that 900 of our best friends came to tell us they didn't like," says Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner. As she, Austin City Council Member Daryl Slusher, and state Rep. Ann Kitchen hashed out language on Dec. 10 to make CAMPO's wishes so, TxDOT district engineer Bill Garbade threatened that the state could drop the MoPac project entirely if CAMPO continues fussing. Yet in the end, 14 of the 21 board members -- including otherwise staunch road warriors such as Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and Rep. Mike Krusee -- agreed to support the pro-neighbor resolutions.

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