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CTRMA plans to add express lanes to MoPac South

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

A proposal to add four tolled lanes to MoPac Expressway, including two elevated lanes, raised concerns Monday from Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea and others during a Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board meeting.

“I don’t think there’s been adequate public dissemination of information about this,” Shea said. “I don’t think there’s been an adequate public comment period.”

Shea, who is part of the Travis County delegation on the CAMPO board, made the comments during a public hearing on a request from the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. The organization is asking the CAMPO board to amend its 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, which currently allows only two managed lanes for expansion.

CTRMA unveiled its recommendation, accompanied by illustrations, at an environmental study open house Feb. 26. Though the agency officially closed the open house comment period Monday night, the plans are available online at the project’s virtual open house until April 2. Citizens can also submit general comments through an online form.

Shea requested that CTRMA extend its public comment period for the open house to April 2, which is when CAMPO will close public comment on its 2040 Regional Transportation Plan.

CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said that it would be “more valuable” for his organization to hold another open house, followed by another public comment period.

“I don’t think we have a problem opening it up, but I hope that we would open it up at the right time,” Heiligenstein said. “We will have more information and more opportunity during that entire period to bring back to the community another open house and workshop.”

In addition to the double-decker lanes over Lady Bird Lake, CTRMA proposes constructing two pairs of express lanes on the rest of MoPac between Cesar Chavez Street and Slaughter Lane, as well as entrances and exits near Cesar Chavez, Loop 360, William Cannon Drive and Slaughter. CTRMA would toll the express lanes, with prices that fluctuate based on demand.

Heiligenstein said the project would likely cost between $350 million and $400 million. If the board approves the requested amendment, construction could begin as soon as 2017 and be completed as soon as 2019.

CTRMA spokesman Rick L’Amie told the Austin Monitor on Tuesday that although his organization recommended express lanes over alternatives such as carpooling lanes and transit-only lanes for the first time at the recent open house, it began presenting the option along with others at an open house last April.

Those other options, however, may not be part of the next open house, which L’Amie said would probably take place in several weeks. “The project team wouldn’t show those as an alternative at this point because there’s another alternative that would better suit that need,” he said.

“If citizens want to make their case or say why they might think those other options would work better, they would certainly be considered,” L’Amie continued. “Anything’s possible. It doesn’t preclude anything until we reach that public hearing stage when the final environmental document is submitted and it goes for approval.”

L’Amie said the final public hearing would likely take place toward the end of the year. CTRMA will then submit an environmental assessment to the Federal Highway Administration in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

If public feedback at the next open house is reflective of the feedback that citizens provided Monday, the CTRMA may very well consider dusting off alternatives to express lanes. Though only four speakers showed up, they all disapproved of the idea.

The agenda for Monday’s board meeting states that staff plans to request that the board take action on amending the 2035 plan at its next meeting on April 13. The board will also consider a similar amendment request that would allow the CTRMA to construct four express lanes on US 183 North, between RM 620 and Loop 1.

The 2040 plan, which is currently in draft form, is due to the federal government May 24. CAMPO will hold several community meetings on the topic through April 1.

Image courtesy of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.


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