By the time you read these words, a federal judge will have decided whether the Texas Department of Transportation can turn the historic community of Oak Hill into a killing spree.
As it seems like ages ago, the US 290 and Texas 71 “Y” intersection in southwest Austin was designed to become a freeway flyover. Almost everyone who drives the US 290 West is in favor of such a project, that is, until they know the details of this unnecessary plan:
â¢ Over a decade of traffic congestion, due to unnecessary construction chaos
â¢ Over $ 1 billion burned on just 4 miles of road
â¢ A mile of two-story highway sending noise and burning deep into neighborhoods
â¢ Bulldozer of more than 200 heritage trees
â¢ Dig 30 feet in the limestone, above the aquifer that feeds Barton Springs
â¢ Line the roadway in an ecologically sensitive location
â¢ Loss of a potential green belt on Williamson Creek
â¢ A new concrete batching plant in residential areas
â¢ Historic buildings overshadowed by an elevated 12-lane wide highway
Sure, we need a new road, but it’s a bit like blowing up your house to get rid of cockroaches.
Common sense says it is unreasonable to destroy irreplaceable natural heritage, spend nearly a billion dollars, divide a community, and risk a public water supply if there is an alternative available that can do the job. cheaper. In this case, it is clear.
Since 2005, residents of southwest Austin under the âFix 290â banner have requested a ground-level version of a new US Highway 290 that can service traffic needs without harming the local community. US Highway 290 was originally intended to be at ground level, in TxDOT plans first approved in 1988. TxDOT now wants all major highway lanes to be in the air or underground.
Six lanes in the air or underground add no vehicle movement capability. It was purely a gift to entrepreneurs and a theft from taxpayers.
Although the height of the project has been changed, the proposed width has never changed from the 1988 plan – 12 lanes. These are six motorway lanes, with six lanes of front roads – also known as “feeder”, “service” or “access” roads. Front roads add only about 10% more capacity to the proposed highway, making it an inefficient use of space.
For a one kilometer long floodplain of Williamson Creek, the front road requires the removal of heritage trees (oaks, sycamores and other deciduous trees between 100 and 300 years old).
A group of citizens commissioned a ‘Livable Oak Hill’ design in 2018 (saveoakhill.org/livable-oak-hill), which proposes a neighboring boulevard less than a hundred meters further north, instead of a front road, to save the trees and the Williamson stream.
This boulevard plan would provide a pedestrian and transit friendly alternative near the new highway, in addition to allowing for a new greenbelt park on Williamson Creek.
The Fix 290 group in 2005 requested a “parkway”, defined as “a freeway without front roads”, for this 1 mile section parallel to Williamson Creek.
A real walking option is possible. TxDOT even built one – State Highway 45 Southwest. This highway with no front roads, all built at ground level through nature reserves, cost only $ 109 million to build nearly 4 miles.
While a real walk for Oak Hill would be different in details – there will be more utility relocations and the new build area a bit longer than SH 45 SW at about 5 miles long – this real-life example tells us. that there is a potential to save up to $ 500 million, plus a lot of trees and time (beloved Barton Springs too!).
If you can support our vision, please visit our website (Oakhillneighbors.org) and join us in sending a message to Texas Transportation Overlords.
Recently retired from operating her own ecotourism business, Carol Cespedes of Fix 290 Coalition has been an Oak Hill resident for 27 years. She is a board member of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods and moderator of Oak Hill Neighbors, representing residents living near the Y of Highways 290 and 71.
Stephen Beers of Save Barton Creek is a member of the SBCA Board of Directors; a writer, editor and researcher; and a resident of Austin for over 40 years.
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