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CTRMA board gets up to speed on MoPac tolling

Thursday, May 5, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority formally adopted a high-tech tolling policy on Tuesday after a discussion that revealed not all were fully up to speed on the MoPac Improvement Project.

At its monthly meeting, the CTRMA board of directors voted unanimously to amend its policy code to include language that provides for variable tolling on the two new lanes currently under construction on MoPac Expressway from Parmer Lane to Lady Bird Lake.

The tolls will be adjusted on a real-time basis to manage congestion and keep traffic flowing freely in the lanes. The system will use microwave vehicle detectors posted every half-mile to measure congestion on the nontolled lanes. As more vehicles show up in those lanes, tolls will begin to rise in order to discourage drivers from using the express lanes.

The idea is to make the thought of purchasing one’s way out of congestion cost-prohibitive to enough drivers to keep them out of the new lanes.

“There is a minimum toll of 25 cents per zone,” CTRMA Director of Operations Tim Reilly told the board. That means a full trip through the roadway’s two zones would cost only half a dollar during times of lowest demand. However, Reilly added, “There is no maximum toll rate that’s set by policy. It’ll be dictated by traffic volumes.”

Reilly also discussed the style and location of the signage that will post the current tolls and inform drivers how to access the lanes. He used as demonstration graphics that depicted the stretch of the highway from Cesar Chavez Street up to FM 2222. Drivers will only be able to access the express lanes near those two roadways.

Board Member David Armbrust noted that entries and exits near 2222 are north of that east-west corridor. Reilly explained to him that that means northbound drivers from downtown would have no choice but to stay in the nontolled lanes in order to access that road. Conversely, Reilly said, drivers entering MoPac from 2222 and heading toward downtown would have no means of taking advantage of the congestion-proof lanes.

When Armbrust realized Reilly’s point about a CTRMA project that has been under construction since early 2014 and was originally scheduled to be finished last year, he replied simply, “Wow.”

Last November, the Travis County Commissioners Court reappointed Armbrust in the face of growing complaints that the CTRMA board was failing in its mission to oversee the details of the toll road agency’s projects. One coalition of activists earlier this year accused the board of acting as a rubber stamp and pointed out some members’ repeated absences, including Armbrust’s fellow Travis County appointee Charles Heimsath, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

County Commissioner Brigid Shea, an outspoken critic of CTRMA, told the Austin Monitor that she was told Armbrust had requested Tuesday’s briefing on the on- and off-ramps.

“I appreciate David asking questions. I feel like he’s doing more than a lot of the other board members in asking questions and pushing the authority to look differently at things,” Shea said. “I do think that the toll road authority could do a better job of briefing its own board on a whole lot of things.”

CTRMA is expected to partially finish the MoPac Improvement Project this summer and wrap up the entire project later this year.

Photo courtesy of CTRMA

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