TWO MOPAC LANES TO BE CLOSED THIS WEEKEND

Huge back­ups ex­pected when all but one lane closes dur­ing weekend.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ben Wear bwear@states­man.com

Stay away from south­bound MoPac Boule­vard in Cen­tral Austin this weekend.

And prob­a­bly more week­ends in the next cou­ple of months.

In an ef­fort to bring the long-de­layed toll lane ex­pan­sion project to a close in the late summer or early fall, the con­trac­tor will close all but one south­bound lane be­tween RM 2222 and En­field Road from late Friday evening to early Mon­day morn­ing.

The clo­sure of two lanes al­most cer­tainly will cause huge back­ups on the road, of­fi­cials said.

“Driv­ers are urged to avoid south­bound MoPac” dur­ing what could be a 55-hour clo­sure, the Cen­tral Texas Re­gional Mo­bil­ity Au­thor­ity said in a Thurs­day af­ter­noon news re­lease.

Austin po­lice will be sta­tioned near each of the on-ramps in that 3-mile stretch, di­rect­ing traf­fic along­side the free­way, the re­lease said.

The clo­sure will al­low prepa­ra­tion for pav­ing of the cen­ter and left lanes. Only the out­side lane will be us­able this weekend.

The clo­sure will be­gin as early

as 10 p.m. Friday and last no later than 5 a.m. Mon­day, the mo­bil­ity au­thor­ity says. The agency is de­vel­op­ing and will op­er­ate an added toll lane on each side of MoPac be­tween West Ce­sar Chavez Street and Parmer Lane, an 11-mile in­ter­val.

Work­ers will re­move ex­ist­ing asphalt in prepa­ra­tion for lay­ing the fi­nal layer of new pave­ment in this 3-mile sec­tion. That new type of asphalt, called “per­me­able fric­tion course,” emits less noise from tires than nor­mal asphalt and sup­presses spray when the road is wet. But it can only be ap­plied when the tem­per­a­ture is 70 de­grees or higher, the au­thor­ity said, lend­ing an ur­gency to get it done be­fore overnight tem­per­a­tures be­gin to fall be­low that level.

The mo­bil­ity au­thor­ity in its re­lease said “a num­ber of weekend clo­sures may be needed.”

Mo­bil­ity au­thor­ity of­fi­cials said last month that the rest of the north­bound toll lane should open by late Septem­ber, with the full south­bound toll lane to open a cou­ple of weeks later. Part of the north­bound toll lane opened last Oc­to­ber.

The toll project, which be­gan con­struc­tion in Jan­uary 2014, was orig­i­nally pro­jected to be com­plete in Septem­ber 2015, an es­ti­mate that has proved to be wildly op­ti­mistic. Con­trac­tor CH2M, which bid about $60 mil­lion less than its clos­est com­peti­tor in 2013, pro­posed a design change — short tun­nels south of En­field — that added con­sid­er­able time to the project when the lime­stone be­drock was harder and more dif­fi­cult to drive through than ex­pected.

And the project has run into a num­ber of other prob­lems: la­bor short­ages, a de­lay in the city’s design of a re­place­ment wa­ter main and nu­mer­ous old and un­ex­pected util­ity in­stal­la­tions un­der­ground.

The toll lanes — with en­trances and ex­its only at the north and south ends and one place in the mid­dle — will have tolls that fluc­tu­ate as of­ten as ev­ery five min­utes in re­sponse to traf­fic lev­els. The ever-chang­ing tolls, of­fi­cials main­tain, will al­low them to main­tain a speed of at least 45 mph in those added lanes, ab­sent an ac­ci­dent that com­pletely blocks the lane.

CON­TRIB­UTED

“Driv­ers are urged to avoid south­bound MoPac” dur­ing what could be a 55-hour clo­sure, the Cen­tral Texas Re­gional Mo­bil­ity Au­thor­ity said Thurs­day.

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