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MoPac South may only work with raised ramp

Thursday, April 16, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Whether it includes two or four express lanes, a proposed MoPac South expansion project would likely require the elevated ramp over Lady Bird Lake that has caused a stir in recent weeks.

That is what Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said at Monday’s meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board. “If we go down to one lane (in each direction), that does not remove the Lady Bird Lake issue,” he said.

“There’s no way to put one lane in there and make it operationally efficient,” he said. “It is almost a waste of money.”

CTRMA’s Rick L’Amie told the Austin Monitor on Wednesday, however, that authority staff now plans to consider a design that features two lanes as an alternative to the four-lane proposal with the hope of presenting it to the public for comment at a planned open house in August.

Whatever the total number, CTRMA’s MoPac South proposal — if approved — would add tolled express lanes to the highway between Cesar Chavez Street and Slaughter Lane.

“Based on the preliminary designs for the MoPac South project, to provide connections to and from downtown Austin, it would require an elevated ramp,” L’Amie elaborated. “Two elevated direct connects or ramps would be required whether or not there are two lanes or four lanes in the project.”

The issue came up when Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, who sits on the CAMPO board, made a motion to move forward on the organization’s 2040 Regional Transportation Plan without the four-lane proposal, leaving it at the original two lanes included in the 2035 plan.

Though her motion failed, Shea had the support of City Council Members Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen, as well as — by proxy — Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Mayor Steve Adler.

Shea was acting on comments submitted by city Transportation Department staff on a recent draft of the plan, requesting that it not include the four-lane proposal.

“City staff has serious concerns regarding the technical feasibility of the project and the evaluation of the impacts of the project on connecting roadways (for example, the capacity of Cesar Chavez to absorb two new direct connects from MoPac South, in addition to the Express lane direct connect from MoPac North planned to open in the next year), as well as the environmental implications of the surrounding area,” the comments read.

The board, however, concurred with CAMPO staff’s recommendation to increase the proposal to four lanes. The board will vote on whether to adopt the final draft of the plan at its next meeting May 11.

CTRMA staff had previously requested that the board amend the 2035 plan to include the four-lane version of the project. They retracted that request late last month, writing, “A number of elected officials, community groups and citizens indicated they would like more time to understand the impacts of the project, receive information and ask questions.”

Shea has been an outspoken critic of the four-lane plan, saying that the raised ramp would effectively “double-deck” MoPac and that the increased traffic would create additional mobility issues on Cesar Chavez and near Austin High School. She told the Monitor that she was surprised by the assertion that a two-lane option would still require the raised ramp.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that,” Shea said after the board meeting. “I don’t know why the one lane in each direction would have to be elevated.”

L’Amie said that some residents might not have been aware of the design issue because the CTRMA did not have conceptual drawings available for a two-lane option at the previous open house, when staff presented drawings of the four-lane option.

Conceptual drawing of the four-lane option courtesy of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.


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