MoPac Expansion Update
Sound walls trumped new lanes at open house meetings to take initial look at proposed plans to expand MoPac from Parmer Lane down to Town Lake
It's odd to think that noise would supersede traffic on the list of concerns about Austin's clogged west-side artery, but last week's meetings, hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation and its MoPac contractors, were heavy with neighbors who oppose early MoPac expansion plans that would plow through local neighborhoods.
Walking around the room at the open house at O. Henry Middle School last week, it was obvious the concern of attendees was sound walls, sound walls, and more sound walls. That was fine, because TxDOT's final strategy on this initial phase of the MoPac expansion was to use freeway expansion to leverage sound-wall funding.
Sid Covington, who helped create the MoPac Neighborhood Associations Coalition, or MoNAC, whose members are opposed to the MoPac expansion, said these new plans accomplish what local neighborhoods requested: an expansion of MoPac within its existing footprint that would meet additional capacity needs and not endanger future commuter rail.
"The key points we asked for was that TxDOT expand MoPac within the existing right-of-way, at grade, and not in a way that would preclude commuter rail in the future. We had a few other suggestions, but those were the main ones," Covington said. "This plan does that, and it doesn't have to tear out neighborhoods to do it."
The current plans, which could be under construction by the end of next year, would add one managed lane in each direction from Parmer Lane down to Town Lake. That would be accomplished by narrowing each existing lane by 1 foot and taking out the outside shoulder. That bypasses the inner shoulder and preserves future right-of-way that might be necessary if commuter rail is ever added down MoPac's backbone.
The new lanes would be managed lanes, pay lanes with tolling priced upon congestion, rising as traffic increases. It's not free, and it's not any more than one lane in each direction, but if you've got to get Downtown and you're willing to pay for it you're going to be able to do it. Project engineer John Kelly says it adds a level of predictability to MoPac, at least until you get to the Downtown interchange.
Both Kelly and Covington recognize the looming challenges ahead, which is how to get off the road, whether it is Downtown or any points north or south.
"What the neighborhoods get out of this is some additional capacity coming into town," Covington said. "Obviously, one of the issues is, 'How do you get from one end of MoPac to the other?' But that doesn't address the east-west issue. All roads lead there you can add capacity but can you get people off the freeway?"