City of Austin proposes non-radioactive hazardous materials transportation route go through SH 130

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Several city of Pflugerville officials have expressed frustration with a plan proposed by the city of Austin to route shipping of non-radioactive hazardous materials through portions of Pflugerville.

The plan, which has yet to go to Austin City Council for final approval, would ultimately divert traffic off the I-35 corridor and instead reroute northbound and southbound vehicles carrying hazardous materials to SH 130.

“It is not a route through Austin; it is a route around Austin,” Pflugerville City Council Member Doug Weiss said at a Jan. 8 work session.

Austin’s Non-Radioactive Hazardous Materials Route Designation Plan is mandated by federal law after the city surpassed the 850,000 population mark, according to Annick Beaudet, assistant director of the Austin Transportation Department. Beaudet said Austin hit that mark in 2013.

The plan is designed to direct traffic that is ultimately moving through—and not within—the city of Austin.

Beaudet told Pflugerville council members the plan will help to coordinate emergency cleanup efforts if hazardous material spills occur. In theory, emergency crews will be able to respond to spill sites in a more rapid fashion because vehicles carrying hazardous materials will be traveling along the same designated routes.

The SH 130 corridor is also considerably safer than I-35, the study found. According to safety measures conducted by the Route Designation Plan study, I-35 has an Incident Risk Factor score more than five times higher than SH 130.

The selected routes in the Route Designation Plan are located in less densely populated areas in Travis and Williamson counties. Similarly, the selected routes for hazardous waste transportation were designed to divert traffic away from environmental justice populations.

The environmental justice population is composed of minority populations, families with income below 80 percent of the county median family income and households earning an income less than the poverty level, according to the study.

The route maps shown to Pflugerville City Council were drafted with participation from several regional and state agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, local chambers of commerce, members of the shipping industry and others.

But some regional partners, including the city of Pflugerville and several emergency services districts, were not involved in the planning process. That kind of planning will not work for a project of this magnitude, Pflugerville City Council Member Rudy Metayer said.

“The old way of thinking that everything is Austin-first is no longer applicable,” Metayer said.

After questioning Jan. 8 from Pflugerville Mayor Pro Tem Omar Peña and Metayer, it appeared that the planners had not included Travis County Emergency Services District No. 2 in the planning process. The council members expressed concern that the plan would mandate Travis County ESD 2 to purchase equipment necessary for the cleanup of potentially hazardous materials.

Regardless of the council members’ opinions of the plan, its implementation is ultimately not Pflugerville City Council’s vote. Pflugerville City Manager Sereniah Breland said during the Jan. 8 work session that the plan is not up for the city’s approval.

The city of Pflugerville can draft its own Non-Radioactive Hazardous Materials Route Designation Plan, Beaudet told council members, though the plan would require final approval from TxDOT after a lengthy and potentially costly design process.

Metayer told Community Impact Newspaper that he has since held conversations with Austin City Council members regarding the concern over the regional plan. According to Metayer, adoption of the proposed routes as it stands is far from a foregone conclusion, and city of Austin officials are open to including regional partners in further planning.

“The majority of the growth in the region isn’t going to be in Austin city limits. It is in the surrounding community. … All the people involved understand we need to have a suburban conversation about it,” Metayer said.

It is unclear when the proposed plan or any other routes will go to Austin City Council for final approval.

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Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the reporter for Northwest Austin.
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