AUSTIN Re­vived ex­pan­sion project will add man­aged toll lanes to road

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Ben Wear

MoPac changes on the way

Rush hour on MoPac Boule­vard will soon be­come qui­eter — and per­haps in six years, less con­gested.

The Texas Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion is spend­ing $3.6 mil­lion this sum­mer to resur­face the stretch from RM 2222 to Lady Bird Lake with a spe­cial as­phalt that damp­ens road noise and is less slick in rainy con­di­tions. And work­ers will add a north­bound lane on a trou­ble­some bridge just north of the river by re­strip­ing part of the shoul­der.

A long-term plan will add a fourth, “man­aged” lane on each side of MoPac (Loop 1) from Parmer Lane in North Austin to the river.

An en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment, which is un­der way, and en­gi­neer­ing work for the man­aged lanes will be com­plete in about two years, of- fi­cials said Wed­nes­day. The ad­di­tional lanes, which would be tolled at rates based on the con­ges­tion level of the high­way, might be open by 2016. The tolls would be higher dur­ing peak com­mut­ing pe­ri­ods, and when traf­fic is light, they would be min­i­mal or might dis­ap­pear en­tirely.

Af­ter Tx­DOT spent about $7 mil­lion and 21⁄

2 years on an en­vi­ron­men­tal study and en­gi­neer­ing plans for the project, fund­ing dried up, and

Tx­DOT halted work. It has now al­lo­cated $2 mil­lion to com­plete the pre­lim­i­nary work.

MoPac would not be widened. In­stead, in the tight sec­tion be­tween RM 2222 and the lake — where the Union Pa­cific rail­road sits in the me­dian — of­fi­cials en­vi­sion that the man­aged lanes would be squeezed in by nar­row­ing lanes slightly in some spots and us­ing most of the ex­ist­ing shoul­ders. The new lanes would be sep­a­rated from the free lanes by a row of flex­i­ble py­lons and have a hand­ful of en­trances and ex­its.

Of­fi­cials say the es­ti­mated $200 mil­lion to $220 mil­lion needed for the con­struc­tion is, if not ex­actly in the bank wait­ing, highly likely to be avail­able. Lo­cal trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials have al­ready set aside $70 mil­lion of $543 mil­lion promised to Tx­DOT’s Austin district for new con­struc­tion over the next 10 years.

The rest of the money would be bor­rowed and paid back from tolls, which, be­cause MoPac has so much traf­fic, would be suf­fi­cient to pay back debt for more than 60 per­cent of the con­struc­tion tab, of­fi­cials said. In ad­di­tion, of­fi­cials say, the toll rev­enue would pro­vide money for sound walls along­side MoPac, a mea­sure long promised by Tx­DOT to neigh­bor­hood groups south of RM 2222.

The Cen­tral Texas Re­gional Mo­bil­ity Author­ity, which op­er­ates the 183-A toll­way in Cedar Park and is build­ing toll lanes on U.S. 290 in East Austin, would build and op­er­ate the project. The author­ity has done pre­lim­i­nary traf­fic and rev­enue anal­y­sis, which showed the healthy toll rev­enue from the added lanes.

Al­though the ac­tual de­sign will be de­ter­mined dur­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal study, of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day that the toll lanes will likely in­clude some sort of di­rect con­nec­tion — fly­overs or per­haps ground-level ramps — to Ce­sar Chavez Street. The ex­ist­ing lanes would have the same en­trance and exit ramps.

Con­struc­tion would take three to four years.

The project seemed to be sim­i­larly teed up about four years ago and then fell apart when Tx­DOT fi­nances fell on hard times. But state Sen. Kirk Wat­son, D-Austin, who hosted a noisy news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day along­side MoPac at 35th Street, said the po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial domi­noes are prop­erly lined up this time.

“The vi­sion has co­a­lesced and the peo­ple have co­a­lesced to make this hap­pen,” Wat­son said. Those peo­ple in­clude Deirdre Delisi, chair­woman of the Texas Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sion, who at­tended the event.

The racket over Wat­son’s shoul­ders as cars and trucks zoomed by, he said, was ac­tu­ally part of the point. The “por­ous fric­tion course” as­phalt that Tx­DOT will be­gin lay­ing down in a few days on MoPac’s main lanes ab­sorbs con­sid- er­able noise, al­though of­fi­cials couldn’t quan­tify the an­tic­i­pated noise re­duc­tion.

The short-term project, Delisi said, “will make our life qui­eter, which is good news for those who live near MoPac.” That in­cludes Delisi, whose Tar­ry­town home is just a cou­ple of blocks west of MoPac.

Terry McCoy, Tx­DOT’s area en­gi­neer for North Austin, said the as­phalt project will take place from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Sun­day through Thurs­day nights, and thus should not af­fect peak morn­ing or af­ter­noon com­mut­ing traf­fic. McCoy said the resur­fac­ing project should be com­plete by mid-Septem­ber.


One of the planned changes to MoPac, seen here look­ing south, is the ad­di­tion of a lane to this bridge, just north of the river, that has only two north­bound lanes; traf­fic slows even more as cars merge in from down­town.

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