Oak Hill Parkway project funding approved by Austin City Council amid environmental concerns

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The state’s 12-lane Oak Hill Parkway project—an effort to improve mobility near the intersection of Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71—cleared Austin City Council on Jan. 31 amid neighbor and council concerns around the highway lane expansion.

The various aspects of the $545 million project include main lane expansions in each direction, two to three frontage road lanes in each direction, and newly constructed skyways and depressed lanes, taking the area from a surface-level to multilayered intersection. Construction is scheduled to begin as early as 2020 and expected to last four years.

Although aimed at reducing traffic on the fifth-most congested intersection in Austin, and 64th most congested in the state, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, some residents have raised environmental concerns tied to the massive highway expansion. Others have praised the project and emphasized the need for its acceleration.

In question Jan. 31 was the city’s $3.3 million contribution to the project. Concerned residents urged city leaders to say no to the expenditure and stand by its own philosophy of strict environmental stewardship; however, City Council said Austin was in a tough position as it was a required financial participant in the state project.

Mayor Steve Adler held up a memorandum of understanding entered into by the city and the state as a signal of major progress. With the help of the local Save Barton Creek Association, the agreement means the state will continue to work with Austin on environmental and watershed protection during this project and other selected TxDOT projects in the future.

Austin Director of Transportation Rob Spillar said, from the project, the city would receive restoration of the adjacent Williamson Creek, natural vegetation and an extensive multiuse trail along the creek.

Although Council Member Ann Kitchen voted in favor of the project, she maintained it was not ideal.

“If it was up to me, I would never build something like that in Oak Hill area,” Kitchen said. “It’s not progressive, and it doesn’t reflect where we want to go as a city. …I’m horrified by what it’s going to look like.”

State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, came out in support of the expansion and said to City Council she could assure the project could happen with “minimal impact on the environment.”

Prior to his no vote, District 4 Council Member Greg Casar said the city and state have to understand that “massive highway expansion” is not going to help congestion and will only encourage unsustainable sprawling development.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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