A U.S. District Court judge in Texas has rejected a legal challenge by conservation groups that would have forced the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to stop construction and conduct a single review for three separate highway projects in the Austin area, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Construction may now continue on the Texas 45 Southwest toll road and planning can resume for the South MoPac Boulevard underpasses and the eight miles of toll lanes that will be added to that highway.
The groups had contended the projects were interdependent and thus required a single review — a process that could have stalled construction for years. The Save Our Springs Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity have filed an additional lawsuit against the projects, which they say could harm protected wildlife and disturb the Barton Springs' Edwards Aquifer recharge area.
Texas has been aggressive when it comes to its infrastructure projects. The Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) is planning an $8.9 billion highway initiative that would address approximately 230 state highway projects. But that massive spending program, state officials warned earlier this year, would depend on what kind of federal funding the state could line up and if Texas' budget process fell in their favor.
Since that announcement, the TTC awarded a $1.25 billion design-build contract to Grand Parkway Infrastructure — a joint venture between Ferrovial Agroman US, Granite Construction and Webber — for a 44-mile tollway extension around Houston.
TxDOT is also tackling almost $2.5 billion of projects as part of its Clear Lanes initiative. One of the largest pieces of that program went to a joint venture between Balfour Beatty and Fluor Enterprises in May. The two will design and build the $625 million Dallas-area Southern Gateway highway project, which involves building a fifth lane in each direction along an 11-mile portion of Interstate 35, building two reversible, non-toll express lanes, rebuilding an I-35E interchange and adding a third lane in each direction for a connecting highway.
Efforts to expedite infrastructure projects — at least in Texas — will likely lead to clashes among environmental advocacy groups, the courts and federal agencies in the foreseeable future. Such disputes have already come to a head in the case of the U.S.–Mexico border wall project. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security declared some regulations don't apply to a portion of the project in San Diego, where wall prototype construction is set to begin later this year.
In Texas, other environmental groups have been left wondering whether the DHS will claim similar exemptions to push construction forward on a three-mile section of wall that would cut through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, in the southern part of the state.