With many employees working from home, classes moving online for schools and only essential trips out of the house allowed, traffic counts down throughout the Austin region have plummeted, leaving drivers little reason to use the MoPac express lanes to escape gridlock.
The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority operates the U.S. 183 and 183A, SH 71, US 290, 45 SW and MoPac toll roads in the region. Most of those roads saw somewhere between a 54%-60% decrease from the week ending March 6 to the week ending April 3. But the MoPac express lane saw a 90% decrease from early March to late in the month.
“That’s actually ticked down further the first few days in April,” Deputy Executive Director Robert Goode said at the Mobility Authority’s April 29 meeting.
On all the toll roads operated by the Mobility Authority, 844,639 drivers passed through the toll gantries onto the roads between March 30 and April 3—a 59.2% reduction from the 2.07 million between March 2-6. Goode said that level of usage is likely to continue through June, the end of the fiscal year for the Mobility Authority.
“We’re predicting operating revenues from April to June will only total about 40% [of the previous nine months’ average] for the total system,” he said.
According to projections Mobility Authority staff presented April 29, fiscal year 2019-20 revenue is estimated to come in about $19.3 million lower than initially anticipated—a drop of 19.7%.
The mobility authority’s policy is to keep one year of operating expenses in reserves. In order to fund debt service payments, staff projects the mobility authority will need to pull about $9.6 million between now and the end of the fiscal year in June from that reserve fund.
Although the Mobility Authority has adjusted its FY 2019-20 expense projections to save $9.6 million in operations and maintenance costs for the rest of the fiscal year, the timeline for work on the 183 South project will continue on track, according to Director of Engineering Justin Word.
The project is 90% complete and still on schedule for substantial completion in January, although Word said traffic shifts could push the finishing date earlier to December. The bulk of the ongoing work for the $743 million Southeast Austin project is being done on bridges crossing Boggy Creek, the Colorado River and SH 71.
Mobility Authority: MoPac toll road traffic down more than 90% during stay-at-home orders
Vehicle traffic numbers on the MoPac express lanes have plummeted since stay-at-home orders were put in place. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)