On Monday, I wrote about the Community Forum Meeting to Discuss Mopac Expansion — a community forum regarding the expansion and proposed changes to alleviate congestion on the Mopac expressway. I attended this drop-in forum on March 6, 2012. The structure of the forum was excellent. Rather than having a specific time for a presentation, representatives from the many groups involved in the project were there to answer your questions one-on-one. Organizations presenting were Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot). Other representatives included the construction contractor, subcontractors, and design firms for sound mitigation and landscaping.

Representatives were able to show the precise location of changes for residents along the corridor. Satellite images of each segment of the road with the proposed changes were presented at the meeting. This enabled residents to see the exact changes near their home and subdivision.

Options being considered:

  • None
  • Adding an Extra Lane
  • Add HOV lane
  • Add express/toll lane

The express/toll lane is the likely solution for the Mopac expressway. It will involve reducing the width of the lanes by 1 foot, from 12 feet to 11 feet. According to a planning representative I spoke to, TxDot had considered widening the right-of-way along Mopac in 2000. This plan would have involved purchasing some of the homes along the current route. However, the current plan will be built within the existing right-of-way. No additional land will be purchased for this project. I was curious if any land near the railroad tracks would be used or was considered when designing these proposals.

Another planning representative informed me that this was not a viable alternative due to many factors.

The express/toll lane would have a variable rate pricing structure, enabling individuals to take this toll road when it makes most sense for them. Initial estimates put the cost of these tolls at $0.25 to $4.00. The express/toll lane system would have 2 entrances and exits, rather than a jump on/off layout. The pricing of the variable toll rate system is quite interesting. The toll fluctuates according to usage, but will rise if the speed of the toll lane falls below 45mph. This lane would also be used by mass-transit and emergency vehicles.

The estimated timeline for this project is as follows:

  • March 2012: Open House Meetings
  • Spring 2012: Release Draft Environmental Assessment for Public Review
  • Spring 2012: Public Hearings regarding Environmental Assessment
  • Fall 2012 : Environmental Decision
  • 2014: Design/Construction Start
  • Total Cost: Estimated at $250 Million Dollars.

As you can see from the timeline, there is no quick solution. According to data from CAMPO, the traffic counts across Lady Bird Lake in 2010 for mopac were 214,000 vehicles. The quantity crossing Lady Bird Lake on Interstate 35 is only 175,000. This is the hard data that Mopac is just as bad or worse than I-35. Furthermore, mopac narrows down to two lanes southbound before Cesar Chavez/5th street exit.

Overall, a good meeting and a great structure to the meeting. It enabled residents and other citizens to obtain as little or as much information as they liked about the project. Lets hope that a project gets approved and this roadway gets some relief sooner rather than later. Austin residents waste 44 hours more than the average US Citizen needlessly in traffic. And some of us waste more time than that. I’ll continually post updates later on the progress of this project, as well as on other subjects which affect our city, our lifestyle and our real estate market.

Steve Broyles is a Real Estate Broker and Economist in Austin, Texas. For help with your real estate needs in the Austin area, please contact Steve directly at 512-917-4298.

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