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CTRMA approves MoPac/Cesar Chavez study

Thursday, April 23, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is taking a closer look at potential trouble spots on the proposed MoPac South Improvement Project, but not at the level some residents had hoped.

At its regular meeting Wednesday, CTRMA’s board unanimously authorized the University of Texas’ Center for Transportation Research to begin a traffic impact study that will closely examine how proposed exiting northbound toll lanes mix with existing traffic on Cesar Chavez Street and affect downtown congestion.

Residents and public officials pointed out the exit’s potential for major logjams during nearly an hour of public comment at the meeting.

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea said the City of Austin’s transportation staff also asked to study the exit after a preliminary version of CAMPO’s 2040 Regional Transportation Plan increased traffic expectations.

“They made that recommendation, I think, because they were somewhat surprised and concerned about the plan to bring two additional lanes on eastbound Cesar Chavez at MoPac, where it’s already at congestion and has been congested for a number of years,” Shea said.

Shea also mentioned concerns about how the additional two-lane “fire hose” proposal would affect nearby Austin High School and the lakefront, asking if the City of Austin was supposed to sell lakefront park property to widen roads to accommodate the increased traffic.

“It’s a huge problem in the middle of downtown Austin, so I want you all to think about that,” Shea said. “I don’t think you want to be known as the board who screwed up Lady Bird Lake.”

While the study is just “part of the project’s process,” currently it will only examine problems that could arise from a single toll road exiting onto Cesar Chavez. The one-toll option is part of the originally proposed MoPac South Improvement Project design. The more recent design proposes four tolled roads with two lanes running in both directions.

CTRMA Director of Engineering Wes Burford told the Austin Monitor that the study would take into account the cumulative effects of traffic from the MoPac North and South improvement projects and potential traffic from State Highway 45 Southwest.

“When we look at these impact studies, we have to assume reasonably foreseeable actions,” Burford said. “It’s reasonably foreseeable at this point that (SH45 SW) will be built, since we are entering into a finalizing time. So, we would anticipate that traffic be included.”

CTRMA Board Member Charles Heimsath asked if traffic from nearby UT student housing, Brackenridge Apartments on the corner of Lake Austin Boulevard and Red Bud Trail, could also be incorporated into the study. Officials said UT is considering creating higher-density housing on the property.

Burford said that charting the effects of a development so early in the planning stages might not be considered “reasonably foreseeable.”

Including the past MoPac North study results in the CTRMA board documents, Burford said the first MoPac project predicted no significant difference in traffic burdening the exit.

“But on the South project, there’s a little bit of a different geometry,” Burford said. “(Drivers) get to make a decision if they want to hit the downtown grid on First or Fifth Street — a lot of people make that decision today. The MoPac South project brings a single, direct connector up and lands it in the First Street Corridor. So, we need to assess what difference that would make.”

Burford said the study will cost less than $100,000 and be completed in three to four months.

Photo by Lars Plougmann made available through a Creative Commons License 2.0

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