Manor Expressway: Oh, the Vehicle Miles You'll Travel!

Cash and criticism for the $623 million toll road

The Manor Expressway, now projected to cost more than $623 million, received a $31.6 million loan from the State Infrastructure Bank last week. The loan to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is a stop-gap measure; the 6.1-mile toll road will be funded primarily through the sale of toll revenue bonds, but they have yet to be sold. The loan will allow construction to start on an initial 1.4-mile segment between U.S. 183 and Springdale Road. The project also includes nontolled frontage roads and a bicycle and pedestrian trail. To ease traffic congestion, the first segment plus a new 183 flyover interchange (to start later this year) are scheduled to open by 2013; the two projects alone cost $245 million. Ultimately the Manor Expressway toll road will intersect with the SH 130 toll road, linking the ever-sprawling metro area to Central Austin.

Meanwhile, the proposed Green Line commuter rail transit for the same Elgin-Manor-Austin corridor isn't moving forward – a political casualty, at least for now, of Capital Met­ro's failure to open the Red Line from Downtown Austin to Leander. Adding the Green Line was cited last year by the Transit Working Group (now inactive) of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization as an effective long-term strategy to reduce the region's vehicle miles traveled (VMT) – and thereby reduce Central Texans' cost of living, air pollution, and greenhouse-gas emissions. The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which also operates the 183A toll road in Williamson County, says that by moving cars more quickly, the Manor Expressway also will cut vehicle emissions and fuel consumption.

Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt disagrees. Via e-mail, she said: "Making mostly single-occupant car commutes from farther away more convenient = higher per-capita VMT. Although it could have been mitigated, the current plan for the 290E toll road will act like MiracleGro on per-capita VMT – no dedicated bus lane, no HOV [high-occupancy vehicle] incentive, no contribution to Manor/Elgin rail which exists within the same corridor, no plan for park-and-ride, no near-term plan for congestion pricing. While CAMPO paid lip service to such mitigating policies with regard to toll roads (the unanimously adopted "toll road covenants"), CAMPO flaked at the first opportunity in failing to require VMT-reducing elements on the 290E toll project."

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More by Katherine Gregor
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Manor Expressway, Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, Green Line, Capital Metro, Red Line, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Sarah Eckhardt, light rail

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