The Grinch That Stole Oak Hill
Texas Department of Transportation releases environmental report on the agency's plans for the intersection of U.S. 290 West and Texas 71
Neighborhood groups and environmental organizations are reacting strongly and skeptically to the Texas Department of Transportation's Dec. 21 release of a "final environmental clearance" report on the agency's plans for what it calls the Oak Hill Parkway and most of us call "the Y": the badly congested intersection of U.S. 290 West and Texas 71. In a Dec. 24 press release, several citizens' groups deplored the pre-Christmas data dump of the 222-page report and, more generally, what opponent and neighbor Carol Cespedes called "the Grinch that stole Oak Hill."
TxDOT proposes to reconstruct and widen the two highways (from MoPac to Circle Drive on 290 and up to Silvermine Drive on 71) to become an "upgraded, state-of-the-art roadway" with three main lanes and two or three frontage lanes in each direction, along with a new overpass at William Cannon. Opponents accuse TxDOT of timing its report to temper the inevitably negative public response. "They know we are trying to save our heritage oak trees and Williamson Creek," said Cespedes. "They know we don't like or need 12 lanes of concrete through the heart of our community."
Others engaged with the decadelong effort to do something about the "Y" echoed Cespedes' sentiments. "TxDOT deserves a lump of coal for this one," said Beki Halpin, speaking for Fix290, a coalition supporting a more environmentally friendly design. Clark Hancock, board president of the Save Barton Creek Association, charged that "the gigantic land clearing operations and massive rock-digging planned for Oak Hill have a potential to threaten Barton Springs, causing closures and environmental degradation for years." Alan Watts of Save Oak Hill says that nearly 300 heritage trees would be lost or threatened by the highway's construction. "We know there's a better alternative [than what's] not a 'parkway,' but an elevated super-highway threatening to forever change our creek and our community," the three groups said in a joint statement. That alternative is their "Livable Oak Hill" plan, which calls for much less massive boulevards that would allow the Oak Hill locals to "bypass the parkway and access employment, education, and recreation destinations without adding to parkway congestion."