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Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

Travis County commissioners tear into MoPac South toll lane project

Thursday, January 6, 2022 by Nathan Bernier, KUT

A revived proposal to extend toll lanes on MoPac Expressway from Lady Bird Lake to Slaughter Lane is coming under fire from Travis County commissioners apprehensive about the project and how it’s being presented to the public.

Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to submit their concerns in a letter ahead of a Friday night deadline for public comment.

Among their concerns is that information on the MoPac South project’s “virtual public meeting” website dates back to 2015 when the project was put on ice amid lawsuits and public opposition.

“It seems like almost a useless and pointless exercise to ask the public to comment on materials that are based on extremely outdated and flawed transportation data,” County Commissioner Brigid Shea said.

Commissioners also want the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to consider adding capacity to MoPac simply by repainting the road to increase the number of lanes where possible. They called for a more robust environmental assessment and asked for the public comment period to be extended.

Three days before Thanksgiving, CTRMA rebooted the MoPac South project by launching the virtual public meeting website that allows people to review six competing proposals and comment on them.

Each proposal would add either two or four toll lanes along the 8-mile stretch of MoPac. Tolls would go up or down based on demand like they do on the existing MoPac express lanes.

CTRMA says after the comment period ends, it will update the MoPac South plan based on the latest long-range traffic forecasts from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. That data will then be used to narrow down the six options to one, known as the “preferred alternative” in policy jargon.

James Bass, who’s helmed CTRMA since June 2020, says the independent government agency could have unilaterally selected one of the six build options, because they had already been presented to the public in 2015.

“What we chose to do is remind everybody of where this project was in 2015 and get comments from the public once again,” Bass said. “We don’t expect major changes between the 2035 and 2045 (CAMPO traffic) model outcomes due to the continued growth of Austin and the surrounding regions.”

But at least two members of the seven-member board that oversees CTRMA said they share the concerns of Travis County commissioners.

“We never take the position of trying to cram anything down anyone’s throat,” CTRMA Board Member Nikelle Meade said to the court by video conference. “We really want everybody to have an opportunity to have their voices heard by whatever means that requires.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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