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Toll authority plans managed lane network on Austin roadways

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

Three sets of express lanes in Austin may eventually stretch from FM 620 down to Slaughter Lane and cost up to $750 million, but the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority admits the impact on congestion may be minimal.


Last week, attendees at a town hall meeting heard about the first managed lane project, which will stretch in each direction from Parmer Lane to downtown Austin with an off-ramp onto Cesar Chavez. If the project passes environmental muster this fall, construction could start in 2014.


Mario Espinoza, CTRMA’s Deputy Executive Director, admitted candidly that the project might have an initial impact on congestion but that will decrease rapidly with population increases to North Austin.


“Really one of our biggest customers on this project is transit, our Cap Metro buses, because we will be able to get them safely into downtown,” Espinoza said. “We want folks to be able to see, with a predictable time table, they don’t need their vehicles and they can get on the bus.”


Espinoza predicted the new express, or managed, lane could cut down on travel time by 10 or 15 minutes. John-Michael Cortez, who works with Capital Metro’s community involvement program, agreed that was a plus, but that predictability was the real draw for commuters on bus and especially rail. When rain brings traffic to a standstill on MoPac, transit can still meet a timetable.


Initially, CTRMA and TxDOT were hoping to negotiate some right of way acquisition with Union Pacific in the MoPac corridor. That failed to materialize and the creation of an additional 11-mile lane in each direction will occur within the existing corridor. Much of the price tag for the express lane will go to widening the breadth of the roadway, especially across bridges.


Access to the express lanes will occur in three locations to prevent congestion: north near Parmer Lane; middle between Far West Boulevard and FM 2222, which would be access from US 183; and south near Lady Bird Lake with direct access to downtown via ramps to Cesar Chavez Street.


The drop from express lane on the right across MoPac and onto a far right lane on Cesar Chavez is a critical component of the project. A braided ramp crosses up and over before joining the two other lanes entering downtown. The successful creation of this ramp, however, does not include additional capacity on Caesar Chavez, which will soon be home to both the Seaholm redevelopment project and the new Central Library, as well as other existing development.


Pricing on the express lane will be variable, based on congestion, with the price rising with increased congestion. The goal, Espinoza said, is to set a price that will keep the express lane moving at 45 to 55 miles per hour during rush hour. Price ranges on similar projects from 25 cents up to $9, depending on the length of the project. The range on the MoPac lanes is expected to be 25 cents to $4 each way.

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