A contractor has been approved to build SH 45 SW, a toll road that will connect Loop 1 in Travis County to FM 1626 in Hays County. Construction may begin in October. A contractor has been approved to build SH 45 SW, a toll road that will connect Loop 1 in Travis County to FM 1626 in Hays County. Construction may begin in October.[/caption]

A 3.6-mile, four-lane toll highway project in Southwest Austin that connects Loop 1 in Travis County to FM 1626 in Hays County now has a contractor after approval from the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority board of directors July 27.

The board unanimously approved McCarthy Building Companies Inc. to take on SH 45 SW project construction for up to $78.6 million. McCarthy was the lowest bidder out of three. Flatiron Constructors Inc. bid
$82.6 million, and The Lane Construction Corp. bid $86.3 million.

The Mobility Authority began advertising for potential contractors June 28 and received three bidders July 20, Mobility Authority Director of Engineering Justin Word said.

Construction is slated to begin in October and take three years, he said.

SH 45 SW is being constructed to reduce travel times for Southwest Austin and Hays County residents in the area and reduce congestion on local roads such as Brodie and Slaughter lanes, according to the Mobility Authority. The project also calls for pedestrian and bicycle improvements.

The board also awarded contracts to consulting firm Jacobs for engineering and inspection services for about
$8 million, and consulting firm Hicks and Co. for environmental compliance management services for about $10 million. Before approving McCarthy as the SH 45 SW contractor, board Director David Armbrust included an amendment that prevented construction until another bird survey is completed in the area.

“One of the considerations with respect to the timing of this contract is we’re trying to be sure that we’re constructing the road at a time that doesn’t disturb the golden-cheeked warbler,” Ambrust said. “That’s why the timing is critical to do the construction before the birds come back.”

During the project’s environmental study, team members looked for threatened or endangered species living in the construction area, including the golden-cheeked warbler.

In April, a bird was found in the project right of way, but experts concluded it was not nesting, Ambrust said. If construction begins and a bird is spotted, then work will immediately cease in the work area, Word said.

Save Our Springs Alliance, an environmental advocacy group opposed to the SH 45 SW project, joined a coalition in February to sue the Mobility Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation. The coalition argues that SH 45 SW—along with two other Southwest Austin road projects along Loop 1—could harm the Edwards Aquifer and destroy habitats for endangered species, and that the two transportation groups have to evaluate the environmental impacts of the three projects as a whole instead of as separate projects.

SOS Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch said golden-cheeked warblers are typically in Austin from March through mid-June.

“[The Mobility Authority] can say, ‘Oh, we looked again, and we didn’t find anything,’” Bunch said. “But that doesn’t mean much because [golden-cheeked warblers] are rare to find this late in the summer.”

During the public comment period of the Mobility Authority board meeting July 27, several speakers, some representing elected officials, voiced support for selecting a contractor.

“Please continue to move forward in this effort and make the next affirmative votes in helping this area create a more comprehensive road system for the driving public by awarding these three contracts,” said Bob Moore, senior executive assistant for Travis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty.

Shady Hollow resident Vikki Goodwin said residents who work in Austin but live in Hays County are using Brodie and Loop 1 to travel into the city, and that the traffic congestion is a regional issue.

TxDOT and the Mobility Authority  filed motions to dismiss the coalition’s lawsuit in April. Both sides of the lawsuit await a hearing with a federal judge later in August or September.

“It’s foolish of them to waste time rushing ahead with the contract right now given the pending lawsuit,” Bunch said. “From our perspective, they’re assuming the risk of that investment, knowing fully that it could be halted. And our main concern is that they may be enjoined from going forward in a way that actually hurts the environment, and that would be the clearing of the right of way.”