Travis County commissioners express concern over MoPac South in letter to Central Texas tolling agency

Photo of MoPac
The MoPac South project would add one to two express lanes in each direction on the highway from Cesar Chavez Street to Slaughter Lane. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

The MoPac South project would add one to two express lanes in each direction on the highway from Cesar Chavez Street to Slaughter Lane. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Travis County commissioners plan to submit a letter to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority expressing concern over the MoPac South project.

The letter states that the Mobility Authority used “outdated information” as a part of its virtual open house that ends Jan. 7.

“The materials presented at this virtual open house are the same materials that were publicly available in 2015. They are based on data from the [Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization] 2035 model and have not been updated to reflect the CAMPO 2045 model,” the Jan. 4 version of the letter reads.

The MoPac South project aims to add one to two express lanes in each direction from Cesar Chavez Street to Slaughter Lane. It had been paused since 2016, but restarted in November 2021 with a virtual open house. At the time of its pausing, the Mobility Authority had proposed six possible build options.

The letter cites significant changes to the Austin area’s transportation landscape in recent years, including the beginning of Project Connect, completion of the 183 South project and the pandemic’s affect on commuting habits.

However, Mobility Authority Executive Director James Bass said putting forth the same proposals from when the project paused represents efforts by the agency to offer a transparent process.

“Now, under the [National Environmental Policy Act] rules, we could have moved forward and we could have gone to the public in 2022 with updated analysis already complete, but we weren't comfortable doing that, because we felt like that would have been kind of taking a giant step forward five, six years later, without notifying the public that the project had been resumed and kind of been restarted,” Bass said during a Jan. 4 Travis County Commissioners Court meeting.

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea said presenting the previous data was confusing since so much had changed since the proposals were first released.

“It seems like almost a useless and pointless exercise to ask the public to comment on materials that are based on extremely outdated and flawed transportation data,” Shea said.

She added that she wanted to see a more thorough environmental review for the project.

Community members that called into the meeting also raised environmental concerns as well as questions about CAMPO’s planning model and how the project will reduce traffic fatalities. Some requested that the virtual open house dates be extended.

“I’m concerned, like other people, about the timing of this open house. Starting days before Thanksgiving and ending this Friday in the middle of a really big surge in COVID[-19] has meant that a lot of people have been out for the holidays or maybe due to illness,” said Heyden Black Walker, the board chair at Reconnect Austin, an initiative to move I-35 below ground through downtown Austin.

The public has until Jan. 7 at 11:59 p.m. to submit comment to the Mobility Authority for the current virtual open house. Bass told commissioners that the Mobility Authority is tentatively planning an additional open house in 2022.
By Benton Graham

Metro Reporter, Austin

Benton joined Community Impact Newspaper as a metro reporter covering transportation in Central Texas in June 2021. Benton's writing has appeared in Vox, The Austin Chronicle, Austonia and Reporting Texas. Originally from Minneapolis, Benton graduated from William & Mary and eventually moved to Austin in 2018.