Administrative update to regional long-range transportation plan raises new questions over Oak Hill Parkway project

The Oak Hill Parkway project aims to improve mobility near Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71.

The Oak Hill Parkway project aims to improve mobility near Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71.

An administrative change reviewed Monday night to clarify the description of the Hwy. 290 project in Southwest Austin in the region’s long-range transportation plan has caused some area residents and elected officials to question the actual plan.

The proposed Oak Hill Parkway project would add 12 new lanes to Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71 from MoPac through the Y at the Oak Hill intersection. Three main lanes would be added in each direction for through traffic as well as two to three frontage road lanes in each direction, said Terry McCoy, Austin district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation.

The project had been proposed to include six tolled lanes and six nontolled lanes until last November when the governor expressed a desire for funding from propositions 1 and 7 not be comingled with funds for tolled portions of the project. That announcement halted progress on all toll projects in the state.

In May, TxDOT proposed the nontolled 12-lane plan and asked the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization—the region’s transportation planning group comprising elected officials from six counties—to amend its 2040 long-range plan. The state agency asked to change the description of the project from “construct six-lane tolled turnpike with frontage roads” to “construct six-lane nontolled facility with frontage roads.”

The request also included changing the cost of the Hwy. 290 portion from $529 million to $461.6 million and the Hwy. 71 portion from $200 million to $83.7 million. However, McCoy said the cost of the project has not changed and that the most recent numbers are accurate.

CAMPO’s policy board reviewed the changes Monday night, but the board will also need to approve the change as part of its Transportation Improvement Program at a later date.

The administrative changes drew concern from an environmental and anti-toll group in Southwest Austin called Fix 290.

Resident Beki Halpin said she would like to see a different definition of the project in the 2040 plan and to shrink the footprint of the project because it no longer includes tolled lanes.

“I want a more general description of the road so maybe TxDOT would agree to shrink the road and make it more friendly to CAMPO’s pocketbook,” she said, adding also to maintain the character of Oak Hill.

Resident Steve Beers said he has the same concerns, including the cost changes over the years.

“We believe that it is a substantive change, even for the long-range plan,” he said.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Commissioner Brigid Shea both had concerns about the number of lanes proposed.

“I have heard from folks in the community, and they are asking for the scope and the size of the project to be changed since the toll roads have been removed from it,” Shea said.

However, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who represents the area surrounding the project, said he has been waiting 30 years for this project and that it is “way beyond time to move on this project.”

“I’m not supportive of anything that would push this project any further,” he said.

McCoy said for the last 30 years, TxDOT has been working on the schematic for the project, a “broad-based blueprint” for how it would build the project. As the agency starts the detailed design, it will look into how to save as many trees as it can and also address water quality issues.

“We want to do this project right and be something everybody in the community can be proud of,” he said.

More information about this project is available at www.oakhillparkway.com.
By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and later senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels.



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