Adjusting signal timing on Cesar Chavez in downtown Austin results in reduced delays

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After the opening of the MoPac express lanes in October, Austin commuters saw an unexpected result of those new lanes: increased delays on Cesar Chavez Street.

The MoPac express lanes are accessible on the northbound side only from Cesar Chavez. Drivers may still access downtown Austin on the southbound side at Cesar Chavez and Fifth Street.

In early December, Austin Transportation Department staff adjusted signals on Cesar Chavez from MoPac to I-35.

The city released data Feb. 6 that shows reduced travel times on Cesar Chavez as a result of the signal retiming. The city compared the results to traffic times taken prior to the retiming in early November as well as to travel times before the express lanes opened.

Travel times were reduced by:
  • 20 percent, or 2 minutes, on westbound Cesar Chavez from 4-5 p.m. and 6-6:30 p.m.
  • 25 percent, or 2 minutes, on westbound Cesar Chavez from 7:15-9 a.m.
  • 30 percent, or 5 minutes on eastbound Cesar Chavez from 4:30-7 p.m.

Staffers plan to continue monitoring traffic flow on Cesar Chavez and make other adjustments as needed.

Improving traffic on Winsted Lane

The city did not announce any plans for aiding traffic on Winsted Lane on the southbound frontage road of MoPac between Enfield Road and Lake Austin Boulevard where the entrance ramp lane was removed to accommodate the new express lane.

However, at its December board of directors meeting, Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority staffers discussed measures to improve the traffic flow.

“Traffic trying to get off MoPac is running into the wall of traffic already queued up to get on MoPac,” Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said.

When asked why this traffic wasn’t anticipated, he said traffic modeling completed before the start of the project focused on the MoPac corridor and not the side streets.

“There should have been more modeling done on Winsted and other side streets,” he said.

Proposed measures the agency is considering include modifying striping and ramp metering, in which a signal alerts drivers when to enter MoPac in an effort to space out vehicles, said Jeff Dailey, the agency’s deputy executive director, said in November.

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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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