Northbound MoPac express lane section opens this weekend

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Updated Oct. 14, 10:57 a.m.

A Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority spokesperson confirmed today a portion of the northbound MoPac express lane is slated to open this weekend.

The section that will be opening is from north of RM 2222 to Parmer Lane, but Mobility Authority officials declined to provide a specific date or time.

“This is the first step forward in achieving greater mobility and reliable travel times on MoPac,” said Jeff Dailey, deputy executive director for the Mobility Authority. “This segment opening has been a long time coming, and we appreciate Central Texans’ patience over the past several months as we worked with the contractor to complete this segment.”

NWA-2016-05-1-3The northbound section was originally slated to open in June, but contractor CH2M faced many delays, including inclement weather. The remainder of the project is slated to be complete by early 2017.

The MoPac Improvement Project is adding one express, or toll, lane in both directions of MoPac between Parmer and Cesar Chavez Street. The lanes will be variably tolled, meaning as congestion in the toll and main lanes increases, so will the cost of the toll. As congestion decreases, the cost will as well. This is to keep the toll lanes flowing at 45 mph. The minimum toll will be $0.25, and the agency did not set a maximum rate.

The entire project was supposed to open in fall 2015, but that deadline was pushed back to the end of 2016 because of delays that have continued throughout the project. CH2M has accrued $20 million in liquidated damages as a result of these delays.

“We realize that the traveling public will need time to adjust to this change in traffic pattern,” Dailey said. “Until the roadway is in the final configuration with all four segments open, drivers will not realize the full benefit of the express lane as a congestion-management tool. However, this partial opening will provide initial relief and represents significant progress in bringing greater reliability to MoPac commuters.”

Variable tolling

Management of the express lanes and toll rates will be conducted from a Traffic Management Center using traffic cameras and vehicle-detection sensors to monitor traffic flow in both the express and main lanes. The sensors will be spaced every 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile to relay the number of vehicles per hour in both the nontolled lanes and express lanes, Tim Reilly, director of toll operations for the Mobility Authority, previously told Community Impact Newspaper.

That information will be fed into an algorithm used to set the toll price, he said. The agency will also rely on the traffic cameras and staff members to ensure the algorithm is working and make adjustments as needed, he said. Staffers will monitor the lanes 24/7.

The minimum price for the toll will be $0.25 per segment, and the corridor has two segments in each direction. The board of directors for the Mobility Authority did not set a maximum price for the toll, but the agency anticipates it will average $2-$3 per segment during peak periods.

The speed limit in the express lanes will be 65 mph, and the goal is to keep traffic flowing above 45 mph. During peak periods, the express lanes will handle 1,500-2,000 vehicles per hour, Reilly said.

This post was updated to include additional quotes from the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

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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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