Austin TX to get first toll express lanes - MoPac-1

June 12, 2012

Texas' capital and 4th metro area Austin (pop 1.78m) is getting toll express lanes. The project involves 4th laning of 11 miles, 18km the MoPac Expressway (Loop 1), one of two main highways (the other being I-35) north out of Austin's central business district and carrying 180,000 vehicles/day. Probably only in Texas could they find $200m of surplus roads funds and put it into a toll project avoiding the need to borrow a cent.

Under an agreement just reached the local governments Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) will put up $130m, TxDOT $69m to fund the approx-$200m construction of 4th or toll express lanes. Central Texas RMA, the local toll authority will operate the project and collect the tolls. It hopes to repay the region a total of $230m over 25 years for use for toll or non-toll projects in the region.

The investment of CAMPO money in the project removes the need for CTRMA to sell revenue bonds, requiring area motorists to pay an estimated $314m in bond repayments and interest over a 35 year period - according to a joint statement. Doing this project without debt makes it easier for CTRMA to take on debt for other projects, they say.

Will Conley, chairman of the CAMPO Policy Board is quoted in a statement: "This is an incredible opportunity for the region. Central Texas has some of the worst traffic in the country, and we desperately need more money to improve mobility in critical corridors like MoPac and Interstate 35. This innovative response to the transportation funding crisis will pay off for Central Texas in the years to come."

The toll express lanes project goes from Cesar Chavez Street near the Colorado River in downtown Austin where dedicated ramps feed it 11 miles north to Parmer Lane where  TxDOT tolls the whole width of the highway as part of an earlier upgrade to expressway standard. The 4th landing involved in the construction of the Express Lanes is achieved by making more use of existing right of way.

Fifth lanes would have required unacceptable 'take'

Traffic studies favored going from 2x3 lanes to 2x5 lanes but the fifth lanes required considerable 'takings' of adjacent land including a cemetery and some historic properties. Community support for the widening to 2x4 lanes would have been in jeopardy if planners had gone for the 2x5 lanes.

The project provides for free rides for registered van pools and transit buses but no concessions are made for high occupant cars. Improvements will be made for bicycle and pedestrian travel and extensive sound walls added to protect neighborhoods from noise.

Studies by Wilbur Smith Associates (since become CDM Smith) suggests average peak hour speeds in the unmanaged lanes of 15mph and travel times for the 11 miles of 44 minutes versus speeds of close to 60mph in the Express Lanes and 11 minute travel times.

Part of the highway has a long established freight railroad - hence the name MoPac for Missouri Pacific RR - located in the median.

A draft environmental impact study is complete and they hope to have the project approved before the end of the summer.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-06-12

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