December 05, 2005
Toll road lawsuit in San Antonio

A lawsuit has been filed to halt the construction of a toll road in San Antonio which opponents say would harm the Edwards Aquifer.

Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas believes state transportation officials have rushed the project and ignored their responsibility to conduct an environmental impact statement.

The group filed a suit in federal court in San Antonio on Friday against the Texas Department of Transportation. It's an effort to stop work on the highway that could eventually span 16 lanes at its widest and run, in part, over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

"A project of this magnitude, the start of a billion-dollar toll road system largely built over the single source of water for this region, clearly calls for an environmental impact statement," said Bill Barker, a transportation engineer working with Aquifer Guardians.

The state did perform an environmental assessment of the project in 1984 and re-evaluated that study in 2000 and 2004. But an environmental assessment is a lesser analysis than an environmental impact statement and inadequate given the scope of the project, Barker said.

For instance, the 2004 assessment dedicated a single paragraph to the potential impact of the roadway on the Edwards Aquifer, according to the suit.


The Austin-based People for Efficient Transportation joined Aquifer Guardians in the suit. The groups have contracted with attorney John Fritschie of the well-known Austin-based environmental activist organization Save Our Springs Alliance.

Aquifer Guardians President Enrique Valdivia, who is an attorney specializing in environmental issues, said the group probably will ask a judge to temporarily stop construction while the legal issues are settled.

Valdivia wouldn't hazard a timetable for the litigation but said an environmental impact statement could take up to a year for a project the size of the toll road.

A joint press release by the plaintiffs can be found here. We'll see how this goes.

One point to add:

State transportation officials had not seen the suit and could not comment on it, said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Gaby Garcia.

"Generally speaking, the need for toll roads is pretty evident across the state," she said. "You can drive down Interstate 35 at any given time of the day and see that it is pretty well congested. That's the hard reality."

If you believe that the only options are "build toll roads" and "do nothing", then yes, I suppose there's a need for toll roads. If you believe there are other possibilities - like, say, building non-toll roads - then the choice isn't so clear cut. In this case, the tolling nature of this road isn't particularly relevant, but I wanted to point this out anyway. Until our elected leaders are more honest about the relevant revenue sources for road funding, we won't be able to have a productive discourse about what our options really are.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 05, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

There are even more options available, like widening existing roads, putting in HOV lanes, light rail lines, etc. In a few rare cases, even taking roads out can improve traffic flow!

Posted by: Mathwiz on December 5, 2005 10:46 AM