FA signs Save Barton Creek Association’s letter to TxDOT re: Oak Hill Parkway

DRAFT
6/27/19

To:
Mr. James Bass, TxDOT Executive Director
Mr. Tucker Furguson, Austin District Engineer

cc:
Al Alonzi, Hazem Isawi, and Glenn Harris, FHWA

Mr. Bass and Mr. Furguson,

We, the undersigned community organizations encourage you to revisit TxDOT’s current plan for the highway expansion at US 290 and SH 71, known as the “Oak Hill Parkway,” in order to meet the goals stated below.

Through the many years this project has been considered, our community’s often-stated preference for an at-grade parkway has been consistently ignored. There are now multiple problems with the project and with TxDOT’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) (see attached letter, Appel 2019).

TxDOT Austin District staff has and continues to actively make changes to the project, despite the fact that the FEIS and Record of Decision were issued in December 2018. These changes include: alterations to number of lanes (upon the presumption that an un-tolled road will have less traffic on access lanes), flood risk modeling and subsequent design changes, and changes to the shared use path. These are all items that should be included within the EIS process. They illustrate that the FEIS did not fully consider these items and was incomplete. The community did not have the opportunity to comment on these very significant changes. We still have not seen the new flood model and any resulting design changes. Yet, TxDOT continues to insist that it expects to put out a final Request for Proposals (RFP) in July.

It is time to correct errors made in this process and reconsider the true purpose and need for the project, as well as the community’s concerns and preferences.

The community put forth a viable alternative vision, the Livable Oak Hill plan, which is an at-grade, true parkway. We now urge TxDOT to genuinely explore a design consistent with the context and the community’s vision, while working with the stakeholders to address our valid concerns regarding environmental degradation, community cohesion, flooding and safety, and construction-related delays.  Every possible opportunity to avoid excavation and elevation, particularly on the main lanes, should be explored and implemented if possible. The project as currently planned poses significant risks to the Oak Hill community, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer, Williamson Creek, and heritage trees.

This is an opportunity to present an improved, community-supported project that provides a similar level of congestion reduction, while being less costly and destructive. Notably, this would make more money available for other regional priorities. By avoiding construction of unnecessary elevated and excavated segments, the project would logically take less time to build, reducing constructed-related delays and impacts from reduced accessibility to area businesses. It would also reduce the likelihood of delays during construction by minimizing the risk of encountering voids and other karst features that characterize the geology of the project area. A smaller project footprint could also help TxDOT achieve the net reduction in total suspended solids that is integral to TxDOT’s compliance with the Endangered Species Act for this project.

A new plan could also align with the community’s vision – including those articulated in the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN’s) Priorities document, the Oak Hill Combined Neighborhood Plan, adopted in 2008, and the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan of 2010, which endorse future mixed-use, transit and pedestrian friendly “Town Center” at the Y.  The Oak Hill Neighborhood plan’s adoption was a result of a long community input process initiated by the City of Austin, and the plan’s approval was widely supported by community members and leaders throughout East and West Oak Hill and southwest Austin.

We strongly encourage TxDOT to act now to work with community groups before a final Request for Proposals is issued for the project.

We support a plan for the Oak Hill Parkway project area that:

1) Constructs a grade-level freeway. We understand that there may be a need for cross streets to be raised. One possible at-grade-level concept is the “Livable Oak Hill” plan.

2) Minimizes both excavated and elevated highway main lane sections.

3) “Right-sizes” the number of lanes, using projections based on actual traffic counts.

4) Avoids destruction of heritage trees

5) Protects Williamson Creek and the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer by minimizing encroachment on the creek, minimizing impervious cover, treating all stormwater run-off from the site, and complying with the City of Austin’s non-degradation standard set out in the Save Our Springs Ordinance.

6) Improves neighborhood connectivity and community amenities that support future development of a new town center.

7) Focuses on safety of drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

8) Immediately adds new safety improvements between Oak Hill and Dripping Springs, including: making speed limits uniformly lower between the Y and Dripping Springs, synchronizing traffic lights, adding safer left-turn lane configurations, and erecting center barriers to prevent deadly head-on collisions.

9) Is consistent with City of Austin plans and policies, including Vision Zero (to reduce traffic deaths); Austin Strategic Mobility Master Plan; the Oak Hill Neighborhood Plan; and the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.

10) Respects property-owners’ rights, with fair compensation for all impacts.

11) Recognizes this as a severely flood prone area, and minimizes construction in the flood zone.

12) Is financially responsible.

Sincerely,

Angela Richter, Executive Director
Save Barton Creek Association

Steve Barnick, President
Friends of Barton Springs Pool

David Foster, State Director
Clean Water Action

Alan Watts
Save Oak Hill

Cindy Dietz, President
South Windmill Run Neighborhood Association

Tony Catania, President
Scenic Brook Neighborhood Association

Carlos Torres-Verdin, President
Friendship Alliance

___________

See also:

Lawsuits set against Oak Hill expansion project