Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Report Proposes Route for Texas 130
By Kelly Daniel
American-Statesman Staff
Wednesday, January 5, 2000

The state is recommending the proposed Texas 130 highway be built along a western route it has long favored, despite concluding that the route has the highest impact on neighborhoods and is among the costliest choices.

The report, an initial look at how the highway would affect the environment, will be announced publicly today. It concludes that none of the eight possible paths the highway could take would harm air or water quality, wildlife, endangered species or land use, although all would harm neighborhoods to varying degrees.

That leaves traffic volume as a deciding factor. The Texas Turnpike Authority is recommending a route west of Walter E. Long Lake in Travis County and west into Round Rock that is estimated to draw twice the number of drivers as a road east of the lake and city. Austin, Travis County and Round Rock support the eastern route.

"I think a lot of people will see (the report) and say, `Well, you still haven't listened to us.' But we are trying to listen," said David Kopp, director of the Texas 130 project. "We feel we are trying to stay true to the purpose and need for this project."

Texas 130, also being studied as a toll road, is intended to relieve congestion on Interstate 35, already more clogged through Austin than at any other point of its almost 1,600 miles. Earlier studies concluded that the western route would reduce I-35 congestion by 21 percent in Round Rock and 5 percent in downtown Austin.

The $913.9 million recommended route would be a six-lane highway running 91 miles, starting east of Seguin at Interstate 10, traveling west of the lake in Travis County, through Round Rock and then north of Georgetown to Interstate 35. It would require moving 186 residences, 15 businesses, a church, and a Round Rock water storage facility, and more people will be hearing highway noise than would with the other routes.

The western path cuts through portions of Colony Park along Loyola Lane in Southeast Austin and an unnamed Travis County park as well, but both entities have been aware of that possibility.

But the study also found the western route would use the least amount of land, has the second-lowest impact on wildlife habitat, and offers the second-lowest cost per vehicle mile. Three of the eastern possibilities would require moving more residences, the study found.

The study reignites the sometimes fierce debate about where to build Texas 130, with Austin, Travis County and Round Rock neighborhoods, residents and elected officials expected to protest the state's choice at a February public hearing.

The final alignment will not be decided until the fall and must be approved by the Texas Transportation Commission and the Federal Highway Administration.

"I think the community will be outraged," said state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, one of several legislators who favors an eastern route. "There's a majority in the community that will be outraged the recommendation came out for the western alignment."

Like other Austin-area politicians and transportation planners, Dukes had not seen the report Tuesday and based her comments on a reporter's recitation of the major findings.

The cities of Georgetown, Seguin, Lockhart and Pflugerville and the governments of Caldwell, Guadalupe and Williamson counties support the western route. Traffic on the recommended western route is estimated to average 124,000 vehicles a day in 2020 crossing north of U.S. 290, compared with 81,000 a day on average in 2020 on an eastern route.

Eastern route supporters say it is the better choice because it would cost less -- estimates are $848 million to $888 million -- and would still relieve I-35 traffic while reducing the chance of creating the type of social and cultural barrier I-35 became in East Austin.

"We have to balance traffic volumes with the financial best interests of the people paying for it, and the best interests of the community it purports to assist," said state Rep. Glen Maxey. "In my mind, they (the transportation department) could prove either route."

Each city and county along Texas 130 would be responsible for buying the right of way the highway would require. Governments could choose to pay for their share through bonds financed by property taxes.

If Texas 130 is approved as a toll road, the turnpike authority would finance the project by selling bonds. Bond rating companies use traffic estimates as a measure of how to rate the bonds, thus affecting how much the turnpike authority would have to pay in interest.

No money has been set aside to build Texas 130, and the project has lasted through years-long delays that prompt some to question whether it ever will become reality. And with politicians and residents lined up to oppose the western route, Ethel Domel, 72, of Georgetown was taking a philosophical view Tuesday -- despite knowing some plans call for the highway to run through the home she has lived in for 53 years.

"They wrote a letter and said it was going to go east, then another letter said it would be coming closer to the house on the east, then another letter saying it was going to come to the west, right in front of the house," Domel said. "If something really does come out, I'll be very surprised.

"We're building a big shop to the south," she added. "If they want it, they're going to have to pay for it."

You may contact Kelly Daniel at kdaniel@statesman.com or 445-3618. American-Statesman staff writer Janet Jacobs contributed to this report.