Court rules on the side of CTRMA and TxDOT in lawsuit against South Austin transportation projects

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The 5th U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed a prior ruling Wednesday in support of three South Austin transportation projects organized by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and Texas Department of Transportation, which had been subject to a lawsuit filed in federal court by Save Our Springs Alliance two years ago.

The lawsuit claimed that the environmental impact of the three projects—the SH 45 SW project, MoPac Intersection Project and MoPac South project—should have been studied as one, not as separate projects, and asked for work to be halted.

The SH 45 SW and MoPac Intersection projects had each previously been granted individual environmental clearances, according to a news release by CTRMA. Wednesday’s ruling affirms the studies are valid and that work can continue.

“We are disappointed with the court’s ruling and believe that it is not correct under the National Environmental Policy Act, but it is the court’s final decision,” Bill Bunch, Save Our Springs Alliance executive president, told Community Impact Newspaper on Thursday. “Our suit, though unsuccessful, forced TxDOT and CTRMA to institute stronger mitigation measures than they would have otherwise, and, more importantly, slowed to rush to expand 8 miles of South MoPac, from Cesar Chavez to Slaughter, with four tolled lanes and a double-decker bridge over Lady Bird Lake.”

CTRMA states that the projects were studied separately because each has independent utility and benefits to area drivers, regardless of the status of the other projects.

“Delivering on our agency’s mission requires an unwavering commitment to the environment and the community at large,” CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said in the release. “This conclusive ruling confirms the credibility of the environmental study processes and the planning procedures that guide our work. With this suit behind us, we will continue to implement forward-thinking mobility solutions.”

In an email to Community Impact Newspaper, CTRMA Director of External Affairs Dee Anne Heath said the environmental study for the MoPac South Project is still on hold as TxDOT determines whether or not toll roads will be involved in the project design.

Work on SH 45 SW Project and the MoPac Intersection Project have progressed during the lawsuit. The projects are estimated to be completed by 2019 and 2021, respectively.

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Nicholas Cicale
Nick was born in Long Island, New York and grew up in South Florida. He graduated from Florida State University in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in writing and a minor in music. Nick was a journalist for three years at the St. James Plaindealer in Minnesota before moving to Austin to join Community Impact Newspaper in 2016.
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