MoPac Musings

If you’re a regular MoPac commuter, you’re probably looking at the calendar right about now and wondering what the end of all that construction will bring. After all, the end is in sight – right now the project is 70 percent complete. So what happens next?

We chatted with the friendly folks at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, the group in charge of the MoPac Improvement Project, to ask about how things will work once the new managed lanes and bike and pedestrian improvements are in place.

Here’s what we learned the massive project will mean for your everyday commute.

What Will It Really Do, and Where Do the New Lanes Run?

The MoPac project includes many different components, but the biggest piece is the new lanes being built on each side of the highway. The idea behind the new Express Lanes under construction is that controlled access and variable pricing will ensure a constant flow of traffic in those lanes that transit, emergency vehicles, and drivers can take advantage of to move more easily through a typically very congested corridor.

The constantly-flowing lane – there’s one on each side – will keep big transit vehicles like buses moving faster and out of the traffic mix on the main lanes. It could encourage more people to carpool, too, since by carpooling they can split the costs of the variable toll and use the faster-moving lanes more regularly. And more bus riders and carpoolers means less single-occupancy cars on MoPac overall, which means less congestion.

The lanes have three main access points:

  • North: near Parmer Lane
  • Central: between Far West Boulevard and RM 2222
  • South: at Cesar Chavez Street and 5th Street

For more detail on those entry and exit points, click here.

map via CTRMA

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What Will Driving Be Like?

“Anytime you add lanes, entrances, and exits in a new construction project, it can take time for drivers to make initial adjustments,” said Rick L’Amie, manager of communications with CTRMA. The new lanes will be separated by flexible plastic sticks. Drivers will only be allowed to access the lanes from designated locations, although emergency vehicles can drive over the sticks as needed to access the lanes, or move disabled vehicles.

For most drivers, traveling on MoPac won’t be much different than usual, although traffic will hopefully flow a little better. If you find yourself accidentally getting into one of the new lanes, you won’t have to worry about paying right then and there; you will be mailed an invoice. To see animated videos simulating the drive on different portions of the Express Lanes, check out the MoPac Improvement Project’s YouTube channel.

What Will It Cost To Drive In the New Lanes?

Variable tolling means the price you pay to drive in the new express lanes changes depending on how heavy traffic is. When traffic is very heavy, toll rates increase; when it’s light, you pay less. There will be electronic signs displaying the current rates in real-time so that you know what you’d be paying if you choose to enter the lanes (unless you’re using transit or a registered carpool, in which case you ride for free). Once you enter a lane, the price you saw on the sign is locked in for you, even if drivers entering after you or at a different location pay a higher rate.

CTRMA says initial toll rates could range from 25 cents to $4.00 per trip, but could go higher as demand rises.

How Will Transit Use The Lanes?

Capital Metro buses and carpools and vanpools registered through Capital Metro will be able to use the lanes for free. L’Amie said that because the buses won’t be stuck in the same traffic as everyone else – a major barrier to some would-be bus riders – those commuters will have a faster trip.

Capital Metro is exploring additional park and ride lots that would also make it easy for commuters to drive their cars from home and hop on the bus for the remainder of the trip into or out of the city.

While regular carpoolers or those who carpool with the Carma app are welcome to use the lanes, and can split the costs to make it worthwhile, only carpools registered though Capital Metro get the fee waived.

What About the Bike Lanes?

The MoPac Project includes $5 million worth of proposed bicycle and pedestrian facility improvements. Those include:

  • Three miles of 10’ wide/two-way shared use path (SUP) – a two-mile section on the west side of MoPac from Walnut Creek Trail to the north end of Loop 360 and a one-mile section that runs through the US 183 interchange and links Shoal Creek Boulevard to Neils Thompson Drive
  • Improved east/west connectivity at 13 MoPac cross streets including Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) improvements, sidewalk extensions, and addition of bike lanes
  • Four miles of new sidewalk, curb ramps, and pedestrian signal heads planned along the frontage roads between Parmer Lane and Anderson Lane to better accommodate pedestrians and people with disabilities.

That could make it easier to use your bike to connect with transit or to get around highways that previously blocked the flow of bike and pedestrian traffic.

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