By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
A Lakeway city council member who also serves on the board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) is proposing a new section of toll road from RM 2222 to RM 1826 in hopes of relieving traffic congestion in western Travis County. The CAMPO board had a public hearing on the proposed project on September 8.
Joe Bain was appointed to the CAMPO board in January by Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty.
Extending Hwy. 45 idea
Currently, the State Highway 45 toll ends at U.S. Highway 183. Bain said there is a project “on the books” to extend SH 45 from U.S. 183 to RM 2222. That project, referred to as “WC29” in the CAMPO 2040 Plan comprehensive project list, was adopted by the board earlier this year, according to Lakeway deputy city manager Chessie Zimmerman.
CAMPO’s final 2040 Plan, once approved, will be developed from projects on this list, she said.
“The description is ‘extend SH 45’ and the limits are from SH 183W to RM 2222,” Zimmerman said. “The (Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority) submitted project ‘CT07,’ which is a corridor study for RM 620 from SH 183W to RM 2222. These projects would work hand in hand; the study would identify the preferred route and capacity, and the extension project would construct it.”
The U.S. 183 to RM 2222 proposed project is being sponsored by Williamson County.
“We are proposing a planning study for that section of roadway,” said Bob Daigh, senior director of infrastructure for Williamson County. “No design or construction funding has been approved.”
Brian Thompto, chairman of the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association, said SRNA strongly supports the U.S. 183 to RM 2222 proposal.
“Getting a concrete proposal in place to connect 183 to 2222, that’s a priority for the entire region because that’s a huge traffic bottleneck,” Thompto said.
If that project is approved, Bain said Lakeway’s proposed roadway would be especially necessary.
Lakeway’s proposed roadway
“What’s going to happen if they extend S.H. 45 and it drops off (at 2222)?” Bain said. “It’s bad now so it’ll make it worse. There’s got to be a solution; something’s got to move that traffic from there. That’s why we came up with this. We have well over 50 percent of our traffic that comes through Lakeway that’s just pass-through – they’re not stopping, they’re not buying, they’re not coming to houses. So we’re trying to figure out a way to make it better.”
The Lakeway proposal has received some opposition. At the September 8 public hearing, residents from Barton Creek West spoke out against the proposal for environmental concerns. If approved, the tollway would go through portions of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Bain said 23 percent of the land in Travis County west of Mopac is preserve land, and 27 percent if Lake Travis is included.
He said measures would be taken to protect the land including making the roadway elevated, not having any exit or entrance ramps in the preserve area, and also having bike and pedestrian lanes that would be grade separated from the main roadway.
“There’s areas of contention, there’s no doubt about it,” Bain said. “We’re trying to get ahead of all this and know what the constraints are and what we’d need to do to mitigate any issues.”
He said there has also been some pushback as the plan is being proposed by Lakeway, yet the roadway does not go through Lakeway’s city limits.
“They don’t like that Lakeway put a plan on here that doesn’t go through their city,” he said. “But nobody else is doing a plan. If somebody doesn’t step up and at least have some conceptual ideas then there will be nothing. There is nothing in the plan so what’s going to happen in 2040 is we’re going to be gridlocked and we’re not going to have anything.”
$3M feasibility study requested
He said Lakeway is requesting $3 million to do a feasibility study, which he said the CAMPO board should vote on in November.
“Our idea is to go out and do a study to see if this would really impact that traffic and what it would do for us,” he said. “That’s where we are now. It may not be a good idea, it may be a wonderful idea, but we won’t ever know if we don’t try to do something.”
Thompto said he thinks Lakeway’s proposal will help to drive the right conversation.
“I think the concept of connecting traffic from Lakeline Mall to the Hill Country Galleria is a great one, but we need to study it further,” Thompto said. “Long-term, it is very important to enhance our primary connectors in western Travis County. We do need significant improvement for traffic for our roads in western Travis County and this deserves serious attention at a regional planning level.”
Bain said this type of outer loop project was first discussed in 1990 and would’ve cost a third less than it will cost today. He said it is critical that a plan be put in place soon.
“This is important to me, it’s important to the staff, and it’s important to my friends and the people I know in Lakeway because if we don’t get something started, in about 2030 we’ll be waiting two hours to get from here to there and there’s not going to be any way to fix it then,” he said.