Connecting with purpose: SH 45SW embodies everything Austin

Eight consecutive years. That’s how many times the Austin metro area has been named the fastest growing region in the country. The appeals, as we long-time residents know, are many: employment, affordability relative to other states, and overall quality of life.

The challenge is not allowing the consequences of that growth deteriorate that which attracted it.

Mobility looms large in this challenge, particularly in a sensitive environmental area like Austin.

SH 45SW offers one such solution for both growth and environmental challenges, and in just a few weeks, you’ll experience how.

Over the last two and a half years, we at CTRMA have been working diligently and collaboratively to implement this environmentally sensitive four-lane toll road – connecting multi-modal commuters from popular south and southwest communities to Austin’s center.

Initial projections are that drivers choosing to use this roadway will save 9-17 minutes over driving local routes to reach Central Austin. Drivers continuing to use the local roads will get 6-7 minutes shaved off of their commute due to the slightly lighter traffic.

It is also the first roadway in the region with wrong-way driving technology installed.

These life- and time-saving features are two of several to be excited about with this opening, and not just for us at the Mobility Authority – for all of Austin.

And from opening date to May 31, drivers with an electronic tag – TxTag, BancPass, TollTag or EZ Tag – can drive toll-free on 45SW.

Environmental model

The project reflects not just our agency’s environmental commitment to Central Texas, but it reflects the continued passion of the Austin community in protecting its natural treasures. We anticipated this from the concept stage and through technical working groups from the county, city, aquifer association and others, we collaboratively drove that concept to a reality that I believe reflects this passion.

We call this roadway “innovative” because of structural and non-structural Best Management Practices (BMPs) including Permeable Friction Course pavement, water quality ponds, vegetated controls and vegetated filter strips, which minimize the amount of pollutants in the storm water that flows off the project and into adjoining waterways.

The end result not only exceeds industry standards, but it is now a model for future projects in Central Texas.

Doing great things is rarely easy, or fast. We’ve publicly highlighted some key accomplishments of this project several times, such as the 98 percent highway runoff of total suspended solids over the Edwards Aquifer – well above the 80 percent required by TCEQ – but there were a lot of other efforts critical to the environment that can’t be measured by percentages.

Productivity with purpose

One example was our “construction exclusion zones.” For example, we preserved a large part of a right-of-way – more than half – as one of these exclusion zones, not allowing work crews there at all. We also had “prohibitive work spaces” which allowed only certain types of work.

The crew also had to go to designated areas around the project to re-fuel chainsaws or vehicles to mitigate any environmental impacts.

As you can imagine that can inhibit productivity. But it was productivity with a purpose – a purpose driven home with our robust training program, requiring every worker to undergo training consistent with our environmental efforts and goals. We also hired our own environmental scientists.

The Mobility Authority continued the collaborative spirit that began this project by inviting Austin and county officials out to perform spot checks. And I’m proud to report that they never found any work being performed outside of what was agreed upon.

The understated ponds

The project’s sedimentation ponds are another feature that deserve attention.

Water flows from the roadway to the pond, the sediment settles, and then thanks to an electronic valve, the water is released automatically every 12 hours, once it’s free of the sediment.

This feature is a first for Central Texas. And in addition to the great wildflowers, our rainy weather last fall gave us the proof that the ponds would work.

Drive, walk, bike, learn – and celebrate!

Not all of the amenities along 45SW will be ready by the anticipated opening in late May, but the walking path will be. We’re also working on a series of informational signs to place along the path that speak to the important history of this region. Additional family- and kid-friendly enhancements are also in our future plans.

Those 6 to 17 minutes saved by commuting along 45SW add up to some quality time over the course of a week – time that you can now use to enjoy everything, and everyone, that you connect with in Austin.

We hope you use some of that time to come celebrate with us at our grand opening jubilee on Saturday, May 18, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Watch for updates on our Facebook invite, and plan on enjoying live music, food and activities that are so much a part of the Austin experience.

Thank you, Austin, for having the patience that allowed us to get this done according to our collaborative vision.

Every resident – from our long-time locals to those clamoring to get here – deserves to enjoy the natural and cultural gems we are so passionate about preserving. Safely and reliably connecting you, no matter where you live, to those treasures and to other points you need to enhance your quality of life, is one of your Mobility Authority team’s most fervent goals.


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