MoPac Expressway: Quicker Commute, Pedestrian Friendly

MoPac is one of Austin’s most important arteries, serving as a key route to downtown and points beyond.

📅 Wed May 25, 2016 - West Edition
Jennifer Rupp - CEG CORRESPONDENT


Bicycle and pedestrian bridge deck construction at Union Pacific Crossing.
Bicycle and pedestrian bridge deck construction at Union Pacific Crossing.

MoPac is one of Austin's most important arteries, serving as a key route to downtown and points beyond. As a primary alternative to Interstate 35, MoPac carries more than 180,000 cars and trucks each day. By 2030, MoPac is projected to serve more than 320,000 cars a day.

The MoPac Improvement Project will give drivers the option to bypass congestion on the 11-mi. (18 km) stretch of MoPac between Parmer Lane and Cesar Chavez Street and get to their destination without delay.

As Austin's primary north-south route alternative to I-35, MoPac has long been identified as a heavily congested corridor in need of traffic solutions. In fact, additional High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) or Express Lanes on MoPac have been included in the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organizations (CAMPO) Long Range Transportation Plan since 1994.

In 2010, after decades of debate about how to improve MoPac, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority partnered with the Texas Department of Transportation to conduct a federal Environmental Assessment of the corridor. Over two years the project team held dozens of community meetings and analyzed a wide range of issues including roadway noise, historical properties and bicycle and pedestrian needs. The project team had limited options given a community desire not to acquire additional land, take any homes or businesses or build any elevated structures. Given these constraints it was determined that Express Lanes were the best option to improve mobility in the corridor and meet the need and purpose of the project.

In August 2012 the Federal Highway Administration completed its review of the Environmental Assessment and determined that construction could proceed. In fall 2012 the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority solicited proposals from companies to design and build the project and after scoring the proposals, selected CH2M HILL to complete the job.

CH2M HILL is an international engineering and construction firm headquartered in Englewood, Colo. The firm was among seven that competed for the right to design and construct the MoPac Improvement Project. CH2M HILL was hired following an extensive competitive review process.

The MoPac Improvement Project involves construction of one Express Lane in each direction. South of RM 2222 most of the construction work will occur along the right hand side of the road adjacent to nearby homes and businesses (No additional property will be acquired). North of RM 2222, the new lanes will be constructed in the middle of the existing highway. Bicycle and pedestrian improvements will be constructed at cross streets and on portions of the frontage roads.

During construction, work will occur around the clock, but lane closures on MoPac will be limited to overnight hours (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) except Sundays, when lane closures may start at 5 p.m. Lane closures will be limited to avoid impacts to traffic during the day. Frontage road lanes may be closed at limited times during the day. Despite these restrictions and a concerted effort to keep traffic moving, drivers should still anticipate construction-related slowdowns once construction begins.

Subcontractors working with CH2M include Jordan Foster Construction of Austin for excavation and construction of the under crossings; Lane Construction (Dallas office) for bridge widening, and Aaron Concrete Construction, also of Austin, for the shared use path, intersection ramps, and sidewalks.

The contract was executed in April 2013. The northbound and southbound sections between RM 2222-183 will be completed in June. Full completion is scheduled by the end of 2016. To help expedite construction and reduce project delays due to weather, the Mobility Authority has been working with the project contractor to expand the times at which lane closures are allowed. The Mobility Authority has also been permitting the construction contractor to temporarily close some cross streets and/or ramps. To help keep traffic moving during construction, a courtesy vehicle will be patrolling along the MoPac corridor (between Cesar Chavez Street and Parmer Lane) providing free roadside assistance.

Following a new trend in major cities across the United States, the MoPac Expressway will be implementing “Variable Toll Express Lanes”. Express Lanes are usually reserved for public transit buses, registered van pools and emergency vehicles to provide a reliable, uncongested, non-stop, toll free route to their destination. As these vehicles will not use up all of the space in the Express Lanes, individual drivers will be permitted to use the lane if they choose to. To keep the Express Lanes from becoming congested, individual drivers are charged a variable toll that increases when traffic is heavy and goes down when traffic is light. The primary goal is not to generate revenue, but to keep the Express Lane free flowing as much as possible.

The MoPac Improvement Project is a Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (Mobility Authority) project and has been developed in partnership with a number of other government agencies in Central Texas including the Texas Department of Transportation, the City of Austin and Capital Metro.

For more information, visit www.mopacexpress.com.