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Southwest Parkway

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.
Southwest Parkway

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.

The 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.

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 objective.

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 www.bseacd.org

Southwest Parkway History and Timeline

Late 1980's 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.
1991 (approx) Roadway is opened.
1992 Voters approve the Save Our Springs (S.O.S) ordinance, which sharply limits development.
1993 A development plan involving FM Properties, real estate subsidiary of Freeport McMoran, collapses.
1993-1995 The roadway starts to deteriorate.
1997 An environmentalist on City Council proposes to permanently close half of the roadway. The plan fails due to opposition.
1998 The S.O.S. ordinance is upheld in court, ending legal challenges to it.
Late 1990's A small amount of development occurs near Loop 1 (MoPac Blvd)
1999 A golf course is allowed to be constructed between the Southwest Parkway and Barton Creek.
1999 Special studies using chemical tracers show that the groundwater along this corridor goes to Cold Springs, not Barton Springs.
2000 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

Southwest Parkway
The Southwest Parkway near its western end at highway 71. The native vegetation is cedar and scrub oak. This view looks west.

Southwest Parkway
The Southwest Parkway offers great views of the Texas Hill Country. This view looks west.

Southwest Parkway
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.

Southwest Parkway
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.

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