Last updated October 3, 2000
Although it is not a freeway and was never planned to be a freeway, the Southwest Parkway has been one of Austin's most controversial roadways. The reason: Barton Creek and Barton Springs.
The Southwest Parkway roughly parallels Barton Creek and is in the Barton Creek watershed. Water filtering into the limestone emerges in local springs, although recent studies have shown that most of the groundwater goes to Cold Springs, not Barton Springs.
The preservation of water quality in Barton Springs is the top priority of local environmentalists, and the battles over development in the Barton Springs watershed and recharge zone have been ongoing, severe, and devisive. Environmentalists have been highly successful in achieving their objectives, mainly through the Save Our Springs (S.O.S) Ordinance. The S.O.S. Ordinance, overwhelmingly passed by Austin voters in August 1992, limits impervious cover to 15-25 percent and requires new developments to be set back from streams and not increase the amount of pollution that would commonly occur during urban rainfall runoff. In 1997, the Barton Springs salamander was designated as an endangered species, giving preservationists even more clout.
The main player on the side of the developers has been FM Properties, the real estate
subsidiary of Freeport McMoran, the New Orleans based mineral extraction company.
They had a plan to develop the corridor, mainly with housing. FM Properties waged
legal battles throughout most of the 1990's, but eventually conceded defeat, changed
its name, and sold off most of the property.
Save Our Springs Alliance is the principal environmentalist group dedicated to preserving
the springs. Development interests typically classify SOS as fanatical or extreme.
It has also been a potent freeway-destroyer in Southwest Austin,
playing a direct role in the cancellation of the southwest section of the outer
parkway and cancellation of any southerly extension of Loop 1 (Mopac blvd.)
In recent years, SOS's hard line stand against any development has been
circumvented by the developers who have been cutting deals with City Hall to allow
some development to move forward.
On October 2, the Austin American Statesman reported that a landmark settlement is under
negotiation between developers and the City of Austin that would allow 4000 acres in the
corridor to be developed. I was very surprised to see this news, and nothing is final as of
October 3, 2000. But I feel that this land is ultimately destined to be developed, especially
after the finding that the groundwater does not go to Barton Springs.
Just south of the Colorado River/Towne Lake, Barton Springs flows out of the
limestone. There is a small dam to create a large swimming pool. The water is
icy, but great on a hot summer day. Some say that Barton Springs is one of the world's
best swimming holes. I really can't be the judge of that, but it is unique and special,
and the environmentalists want to keep it as pristine as possible, certainly a worthy
Barton Creek flows through southwest Austin and is still largely in its natural state.
Its flow is subject to rainfall, and in 2000 the Creek has been a rockbed. After heavy rains
it can really flow, and in wet years it is an incredible tubing experience.
The last wet year was 1997. The upscale Barton Creek Estates is along the creek just
west of Loop 360. Million dollar homes have been sprouting up like weeds. Much of the
watershed west of Barton Creek Estates has been acquired for conservation.
For technical and scientific information about Barton Springs see
Southwest Parkway History and Timeline
||Development interests have clout at city hall, and get
the Southwest Parkway financed with special bonds. Future development would
be used to pay off the bonds.
||Roadway is opened.
||Voters approve the Save Our Springs (S.O.S) ordinance, which sharply
||A development plan involving FM Properties,
real estate subsidiary of Freeport McMoran, collapses.
||The roadway starts to deteriorate.
||An environmentalist on City Council proposes to permanently
close half of the roadway. The plan fails due to opposition.
||The S.O.S. ordinance is upheld in court, ending legal challenges to it.
||A small amount of development occurs near Loop 1 (MoPac Blvd)
||A golf course is allowed to be constructed between the Southwest Parkway
and Barton Creek.
||Special studies using chemical tracers show that the groundwater along
this corridor goes to Cold Springs, not Barton Springs.
||The Southwest Parkway corridor remains almost entirely undeveloped
in spite of soaring real estate prices.
|October 2, 2000
||The Austin-American Statesman reports that a deal is in advanced negotiation
to allow development of the Southwest Parkway corridor. More details soon on this major development.
All photos taken September 2000
The Southwest Parkway near its western end at highway 71. The native vegetation
is cedar and scrub oak. This view looks west.
The Southwest Parkway offers great views of the Texas Hill Country. This view looks west.
A typical view of the Southwest Parkway. The roadway has six lanes and is on a
120 foot wide right-of-way. This view looks west.
The Southwest Parkway started to deteriorate almost immediately after it opened. Within
a few years, the pavement was patched all over the place. In 1999, the western half had
to be fully repaved.
Apparently, the roadway was built with a substandard base. My theory on why this happened:
the developers wanted the maximum amount of roadway and lanes with the money available,
so they skimped on quality.