Last month, a lawsuit was filed by a collection of pro-environment and anti-toll road forces to halt construction on a toll road being built alongside US 281from north San Antonio into Comal County. On Wednesday they scored a victory when the Federal Highway Administration pulled their environmental clearances on the projects.
In late November, crews began clearing trees and putting up silt fences to prepare for construction of a three-mile segment of frontage roads and toll lanes — 16 lanes at the widest points — on the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone just north of Loop 1604.
Construction was supposed to start Monday but didn't. TxDOT officials said they were ready to make an announcement Tuesday but have been waiting for their statement to be approved by the state Attorney General's office.
Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas and People for Efficient Transportation Inc. filed the lawsuit Dec. 2 in federal court, saying a proper impact study hadn't been done. That was followed weeks later by a motion for an injunction, which is now moot.
The groups say TxDOT should have done a better job evaluating effects on the aquifer, wildlife, air pollution, businesses, motorists who will pay tolls or fight increased traffic congestion, and residents facing unhealthy noise levels.
The Highway Administration sent a letter signed by Assistant Division Administrator Achille Alonzi and dated Jan. 11 to TxDOT Director Michael Behrens to say that new environmental evaluations need to be done.
Nothing was wrong with the previous assessments, the letter says. However, it acknowledges:
"We can see that a portion of the public may not agree with our decision."
The letter indicates that TxDOT has agreed to redo the environmental assessments. But now just one will be done for both U.S. 281 projects.
When the assessments are finished, federal officials will then decide if there are no significant impacts, as they did last time, or whether a full impact study should follow as called for in the lawsuit.
That's where the fight could resume.
"We continue to believe that a full environmental impact statement is required," said Annalisa Peace of Aquifer Guardians.