5 things to know about the 'fast-approaching' MoPac opening

Level-up paving on the northbound side of MoPac is nearly complete to prepare the roadway for the final layer of pavement in mid-September.

Level-up paving on the northbound side of MoPac is nearly complete to prepare the roadway for the final layer of pavement in mid-September.

The full opening of the MoPac express lanes is still a couple months out, but the Central Texas toll agency anticipates opening the entire northbound lane later this month.

Here are 5 things to know about the opening from Wednesday’s Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority board meeting:

1. The rest of the northbound lane will likely open in late September
The MoPac contractor, CH2M—which announced in January it would subcontract the remainder of the project to Lane Construction, citing a $66 million loss on the project—plans to have the northbound lane finished in late September, according to Steve Pustelnyk, director of community relations for the Mobility Authority, which is overseeing the MoPac Improvement Project between Parmer Lane and Cesar Chavez Street.

Starting next week, workers will be laying the final layer of pavement to the northbound lane. The section north of RM 2222 opened last October.

Although targeted opening dates have changed this year, the agency is preparing to launch another media campaign this month.

2. On the southbound side, that lane will not be ready until early November
Although the opening is “fast-approaching at this point,” the southbound lane might not open until early November, Pustelnyk said.

Crews are still milling existing pavement on the southbound side and will soon start level-up paving that will prepare the roadway for the final layer of pavement.

3. The underpasses, which are pretty much complete, are not Harvey-proof
Although the agency reported no flooding during Hurricane Harvey, if the Austin region experiences Harvey-level rains of several inches per hour, those underpasses could flood.

“The underpasses handled the hurricane event very well,” Pustelnyk said. “The good news with these underpasses is that they are at a higher elevation than where they drain to. Other than a rain that exceeds the ability of the inlets and the pipes that handle it, it will drain well.”

The Mobility Authority has also installed a flood detection system that would automatically notify the agency of any standing water so it could close the underpasses, which drain to Johnson Creek, Pustelnyk said.

“I feel personally much better about the drainage than I did maybe going in,” Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said. “I now have the confidence that they can handle it.”

4. Tolls could be in the $2 range
Currently, the peak toll on the open northbound section is around $0.75, but that is because that section is the least traveled portion of the MoPac project, Pustelnyk said.

Agency research indicates the total cost of the toll for driving the entire length of the express lane in one direction could be in the $2 range, he said. Once the lanes open, the Mobility Authority will use sensors installed along the corridor to monitor traffic flow and traffic counts.

The tolling system has already been installed, and the agency is testing it.

5. Remaining landscaping work could be pulled out of the project under a separate contract
In May, the agency already pulled some work from the MoPac project to manage under separate contracts for time and cost savings. Remaining landscaping work could also be completed in a similar fashion, the board discussed Wednesday.

“A big part of [the project] is making sure those underpasses are reconnecting the east and west sides of MoPac in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, good for pedestrians and bicycles and is good for the community,” Heiligenstein said. “That’s going to be a definite upgrade. These elements are really crucial for, I think, a successful project at the end of the day."

Disclosure: Amy Ellsworth, general manager for Community Impact Newspaper’s Round Rock-Pflugerville-Hutto edition, was appointed in February to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority board of directors, serving a two-year term through Jan. 31, 2019.
By Amy Denney

Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.


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