On April 5 Fix290 hosted a public forum on Highway 290 with Commissioner Gerald Daugherty as the featured speaker. The turnout was impressive, especially for the Thursday before Easter.� We confounded expectations for a small grassroots organization by packing the room!� We counted more than sixty people in an audience that included State Representative Valinda Bolton, Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Susan Steeg, Precinct 3 Constable Richard McCain, and Joe Morris, aide to State Senator Jeff Wentworth. All were there to hear the Commissioner state his position on the Hwy290/71 West project and answer questions about the long-anticipated improvement of the highway through western Oak Hill.
Fix290 had publicized the Forum widely and we expected a roomful of diverse opinions.� Diversity was there, but there was no conflict, no confrontation between hardcore developers and hardcore environmentalists. What emerged from the audience was a series of serious questions on many aspects of the transportation dilemma.
Yet the audience heard little new from the Commissioner. Daugherty said what we have heard him say before, which boils down to - he’ll buy any road that TxDOT will build.� He does not want to exercise any control over TxDOT -� but he seemed to present himself as something of a gatekeeper. He said that we could all talk to TxDOT and he would actually help us get meetings with them. Let us presume he means with top level decision makers (Bob Daigh) rather than community relations people with no authority. Contrary to what the Daugherty stated, Fix290 has not been able to schedule serious meetings with TxDOT.
Fix290 leaders were shocked that the Commissioner did not seem to remember the October vote of the CAMPO Board ordering TxDOT to prepare a study of the parkway compared to their design. The Commissioner seems to be in close communication with TxDOT. Does this mean that TxDOT is just hoping we will all forget about it?
The overall picture may have looked discouraging to Oak Hillians impatient to have their highway finished.� Bruce Melton reviewed the reason for the environmental delays (four permitting hurdles that must be passed by TxDOT’s new design.) Now it looks like there are delays on top of delays. Environmental delays. Financial shortages. And a probable Toll Moratorium bill (which the Governor will probably veto).
What we still don’t understand is “Why not the parkway?”� It has less impact than the TxDOT design and would pass the environmental permitting much more easily.� It will cost less - perhaps 50% less - than the TxDOT design. And if it doesn’t include toll lanes, it won’t be included in the toll moratorium. So what’s the problem? We are still waiting for that answer.
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