City of Austin’s proposed hazardous materials routes to direct shipping through portions of Pflugerville

The city of Austin on Jan. 8 presented a plan to direct non-radioactive hazardous materials through portions of Pflugerville along SH 130.

The city of Austin on Jan. 8 presented a plan to direct non-radioactive hazardous materials through portions of Pflugerville along SH 130.

Several Pflugerville City Council members expressed frustration after a presentation of the city of Austin’s proposed non-radioactive hazardous materials route showed shipping of the materials will run 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 Council Member Doug Weiss said at the Jan. 8 worksession.

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

The route maps shown to Pflugerville City Council on Jan. 8 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.

Beaudet told council that the plan will help to coordinate emergency clean up 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, and is less prone to accidents. According to safety measures conducted by the Route Designation Plan study, I-35 has an Incident Rate Factor score more than five times higher than SH 130.

"We are not creating more [routes], we are just saying this is where they should be going," Beaudet said.

The selected routes in the Route Designation Plan are also 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 comprised 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.

Members of Pflugerville City Council expressed several concerns with the composed plan as it was presented, however.

Pflugerville Mayor Pro Tem Omar Peña and Pflugerville City Council Member Rudy Metayer both told the city of Austin representatives that the involvement of Travis County Emergency Service District 2, which serves Pflugerville and its surrounding area, is necessary for implementation of the plan.

After questioning from 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 the Travis County ESD 2 to carry equipment necessary for the cleanup of hazardous materials.

"It would behoove you to make that direct connection to [Travis County ESD 2] and the other [ESDs] that are up and down the SH 130 corridor," Peña told the city of Austin representatives.

Weiss and Council Member Jeff Marsh both vocalized frustration with the plan. Marsh told the representatives that he felt the city of Austin is imposing its will on surrounding communities with this plan by seemingly directing hazardous material transportation away from Austin city limits.

"[The city of Austin is] putting that risk on the city of Pflugerville," Marsh said.

Regardless of the council's opinions of the plan, its implementation is ultimately not Pflugerville City Council's vote. Pflugerville City Manager Sereniah Breland told council members during the worksession that the plan is not up for its 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.

Public comment on the proposed plan is open through Jan. 30, according to Pflugerville Assistant City Manager Trey Fletcher. It is currently unclear when the Non-Radioactive Hazardous Materials Route Designation Plan will ultimately move to Austin City Council for final approval.
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