The Statesman reported on TxDOT’s failed attempt to legalize the harm to endangered Golden-cheeked warblers that would result from construction of the proposed SH 45 SW toll extension of South Mopac. TxDOT requested to pay into the joint City of Austin/Travis County federal permit and Balcones Canyonlands Plan in order to mitigate for destroying and fragmenting over 100 acres of GCW habitat.

City officials rejected the TxDOT request, noting that building SH 45 SW would violate the City/County permit terms requiring protection of Flint Ridge Cave. Flint Ridge is one of the largest caves in Travis County, is home to rare cave-dwelling invertebrates, and funnels large amounts of water directly into the aquifer, where it flows through open channels in the rock to Barton Springs within a few days.

TxDOT argues it doesn’t really need the City/County approval. The law and the facts suggest otherwise. The harm SH 45 SW would inflict on endangered species is just one of the issues raised by a coalition of conservation and neighborhood interests in a lawsuit currently pending in federal court.

To the north, TxDOT and its toll road partner, CTRMA bust yet another delayed deadline in their efforts to complete new toll lanes on Mopac from Cesar Chavez north to near Parmer Lane. The variable-tolled luxury lanes were supposed to be completed last fall. Only a few weeks ago CTRMA contractors set a late August deadline for opening the portion of the project north of 2222.

CTRMA’s business model for the Mopac toll lanes requires that congestion on the free lanes get much worse so that those who can pay the tolls to escape the congestion will do it. That’s why SOS and the Keep Mopac Local coalition are pushing for much cheaper, toll free alternatives that would actually reduce congestion for everyone.