Two small voids in the ground were found 40 feet below the surface near the southbound underpass of MoPac Expressway last week.
Due to the cave discovery, the southbound section of the MoPac Improvement Project near Enfield Road will halt construction for two to three weeks, according to Steve Pustelnyk, director of community relations for the project. During this period, the caves will be searched for endangered species living within.
Pustelnyk said the best case scenario in this situation is that after the wait period, no endangered species are found, and the project continues as normal with the caves filled or otherwise dealt with.
“It is at this point premature to suggest what action there will be in the future,” Pustelnyk said. “We are currently not aware of any species living in the cave other than what is to be expected, such as crickets. If nothing is found, I am certain there will be a way to work around the voids.”
Finding small caves is common in many construction road projects in Texas due to the abundance of limestone below the ground, according to a report by KXAN. Over time, limestone can be washed away by underground water deposits, forming caves. However, the species living inside the cave can have different implications for the project. Last year, a San Antonio road construction project was indefinitely halted by discovery of an endangered species of spiders.
Mechanical engineering sophomore John Peng said he doesn’t use MoPac specifically but is concerned about how this delay might affect general traffic conditions.
“If this lengthens the time of construction, there’s going to be more traffic jams over the city as people take alternative routes,” Peng said. “But I’m not worried about this delay going beyond the wait period. There’s a possibility of finding the endangered species, but I don’t feel like it’s probable. But I do have empathy for the commuters who will be more affected during the delay.”
Radio-television-film freshman Sarah Herzer uses MoPac occasionally to visit her family who live in a suburb outside of Austin.
“MoPac has had terrible traffic with or without the delays on construction,” Herzer said. “[But], it’s better to follow the law of the land and take the necessary precautions to protect any possible endangered species than to plow ahead with the project. Whoever is in charge of the construction knows what they’re doing, so though it may be annoying, we just have to know that it’s being handled by professionals.”