Northern MoPac section on track to open June 8

Workers have been building the express lane underpasses near downtown Austin.

Workers have been building the express lane underpasses near downtown Austin.

Barring any issues, the northern section of the MoPac Improvement Project between RM 2222 and Parmer Lane is on track to open June 8, the project’s contractor confirmed March 30.

The MoPac project is adding one express, or toll, lane in each direction on MoPac between Parmer and Cesar Chavez Street. Because of delays with contractor CH2M, the full project opening date was pushed back from fall 2015 to Nov. 29, 2016.

Craig Martell, executive director for special projects at CH2M, said the agency is on track to meet the June 8 deadline for opening the northern section. That still depends on workers being able to lay down the permeable friction course pavement, he told the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority board March 30.

One of the last major efforts to finish the northern section is adding the final layer of permeable friction course pavement that will reduce noise and runoff into water streams. However, this paving will require lane closures, said Steve Pustelnyk, the Mobility Authority’s director of community relations.

“It is intense and will require a lot of lane closures,” he said.

MoPac Crews are finishing the bicycle/pedestrian bridge that spans the railroad tracks.[/caption]

Recent work


In March, the agency closed several entrances and exits on MoPac near The Domain to repave sections of the bridges over the Union Pacific and Capital Metro railroad tracks. Pustelnyk said those closures went smoothly, and the work will prepare the road for the permeable friction course.

In February, the agency realigned the northbound section of MoPac near Fifth and Cesar Chavez streets and reduced the number of lanes over Lady Bird Lake to two. That caused more congestion issues, but Pustelnyk said issues have leveled out since then and the additional travel time is between five and 10 minutes.

“We have been monitoring closely everyday the traffic travel times northbound because of the realignment,” he said. “The good news is for the most part its functioning pretty well and within the limits that we had anticipated.”

Workers have finished excavating the area for the northbound underpass and will be working on installing drainage, he said. On the southbound side, workers have finished installing the walls for the underpass and are forming the concrete deck for the top part of the underpass, Pustelnyk said.

On the northern end, crews are continuing construction of sidewalks and the shared-use path near Duval Road, he said.

Toll operations


In April, the Mobility Authority board will vote on an express lane toll policy that will set a minimum toll rate of $0.25 per zone—$0.50 cents for the entire MoPac stretch—but not set a maximum cost, said Tim Reilly, the agency’s director of operations.

The agency is still working on how it will calculate tolls on MoPac, Reilly said, but the express lanes will be variable priced, meaning as traffic in the express and main lanes increases, so will the cost of the toll, and vice versa. Traffic sensors set up every one-quarter of a mile will also feed information into how the tolls will be set, Reilly said.

The Mobility Authority will use an algorithm as well as traffic cameras to monitor traffic for any incidents such as vehicles with flat tires. Reilly said employees could decrease or increase tolls as needed if incidents arise or even freeze the cost.

“We can put a hold on the toll and not let the toll do anything until [the incident] clears, and we can get back into normal operation and then restart the toll,” he said.

Drivers will be notified via message signs of the price of the toll about a half-mile before the toll entrance, and the price will not change. The price will list the cost for just drivers with a TxTag, and drivers who pay by mail will pay a higher amount, but that amount will not be displayed, Reilly said.
By Amy Denney
Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and then senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition and covering transportation. She is now managing editor for the nine publications in the Central Texas area.


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