Required environmental study could cause major delays
TxDOT has been hiding information it knew would lead to major delays in completion of the Hwy. 290 project, say members of Fix290 and the Save Our Springs Alliance.
At community forum meetings last summer, TxDOT claimed that the Fix290 parkway proposal would require a new environmental impact study while their design would not. Now it appears TxDOT knew all along that all of the options they were presenting needed an additional environmental impact study.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) had requested that the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) complete a Supplement to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) in part because of the controversy over the project and in part because the original document is 20 years old.
In all likelihood, this means a major delay of at least two years in the completion of the Hwy. 290 project at the “Y” in Oak Hill.
The November 30, 2007 letter from FHWA District Engineer Salvador Deocampo, said, “Currently, on the west side of the project from FM 1826 to Williamson Creek, TxDOT has been working on a reevaluation of the project. The reevaluation was commenced to address changes in design which include consideration of additional alternatives including a reduction in the overall footprint of the segment and to toll the mainlanes. This reevaluation would also assess environmental issues such as endangered species, Mobile Source Air Toxics, noise impacts, etc., not previously studied in the original EIS and approved in the 1988 ROD [Record of Decision]. The project has generated some controversy as is expressed in public statements by the Fix290 neighborhood group, the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) environmental group and several anti-tolling groups.”
The letter was discovered by SOSA when officials made a Freedom of Information request. Andrew Hawkins, staff attorney for SOSA, told the Gazette, “Yes, we (SOSA) sent a FOIA request to FHWA and turned up this letter. Public information laws are a crucial part of the democratic process, as they give people a way to hold our government accountable for its actions, all the more important to take note of during this Sunshine Week. But certainly it should not take a FOIA request to FHWA to find out what's going with the TxDOT's schedule and plans for the 290 project.”
March 16-22 is Sunshine Week, a campaign by the media to push for an open and accountable government.
TxDOT did not respond to a request about whether the requested SEIS will delay the project. Said Hawkins, “When TxDOT presented the matrix of new alternatives last year, they estimated 48 months for an SEIS. They have some amount of time allotted in the current schedule for reevaluation that could be used for the SEIS, but we're still looking at a substantial delay.”
Steve Beers, a member of the Fix290 Coalition that wanted a parkway instead of a multi-level roadway, told the Gazette, “In the mediation sessions [last summer to encourage Oak Hill groups to pick the best design for 290], TxDOT claimed a SEIS for their so-called ‘parkway’ — Option 5 — would take 48 months. Since I think they were exaggerating then in order to push their tolled and elevated plan, I think the true reality is closer to one or two years. But who knows? It probably depends on their funding, and the reluctance with which they approach the work. If they drag their feet, or produce biased studies, there may be further delays and possibly even legal trouble.”
Carol Cespedes, spokesperson for Fix290, told the Gazette, “Last summer TxDOT made the claim that the Fix290 parkway proposal would require a new EIS while their design would not. I wonder how much longer people will believe TxDOT's statements when they are not only mistaken, but try to conceal their mistakes from the public.”
Read the rest of the report HERE.