Naked City

CAMPO Keeps SH 45 (S)

In a victory for Southwest suburbanites and, in particular, developer Gary Bradley, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) board voted Monday not to delete State Highway 45 South -- the erstwhile Outer Loop -- from the region's long-range transportation plan. The SH 45 vote was postponed from January's CAMPO meeting, at which time it seemed almost inevitable that board members (elected leaders from throughout Central Texas) would try to put the brakes on SH 45, especially the western segment between I-35 and FM 1626 (Camp Ben McCulloch Rd). The eastern segment would run from I-35 to U.S. 183 and eventually SH 130.

As CAMPO was grappling with widening MoPac -- last month's controversial road project -- the special committee of highway experts brought in to review the state's MoPac plans insisted that if the western leg of SH 45 was built before SH 130, it would instantly turn MoPac into an I-35 bypass. Organized MoPac neighbors, who had succeeded in getting CAMPO to intervene in the state's MoPac project as a voice on their behalf, feared the same outcome. "The City Council voted unanimously to completely remove SH 45 (S) from 1626 to I-35 from its transportation plan," said David Newberger of the MoPac Boulevard Alliance. "It is important that CAMPO respect the political will of its members ... We agree with the City of Austin that SH 45 (S) should never be built."

Yet on Monday, only three CAMPO board members -- City Council Members Daryl Slusher and Will Wynn and Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner -- voted against moving ahead with SH 45. What happened?

For one, countering the Austin-centered MoPac neighbors were the voices and comments of Southwesterners who already dread traffic piling up on FM 1626. Second, CAMPO's own staff analysis showed that increased post-SH 45 bypass traffic on MoPac would be negligible, a conclusion that MoPac neighbors dispute. These numbers didn't come before the CAMPO board until a few days ago, which led Slusher and Sonleitner initially to try to postpone Monday's vote.

Third, and perhaps more important, CAMPO board members felt SH 45 South was a done deal. Bradley, who's leading a venture that would build the toll-road portion of SH 45 as a partner with the state, bragged that he already had the state Transportation Commission on his side. And the board's stance on MoPac has only led to threats from the state to simply cancel the MoPac project. "The highway boys are interested in citizen input, but not citizen impact," Sonleitner said. The best CAMPO could do, they concluded, was use some of their discretionary funds to encourage the state to finish the eastern (I-35 to U.S. 183) leg first.

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