Monday, August 14, 2006

Consultants look at how to add MoPac lanes

One solution might be toll lanes added in middle near tracks.

By Ben Wear


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Consultants hired to figure out how to squeeze two more lanes onto MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) say they'll likely unveil a tentative solution by December.

These fourth lanes on each side of what is currently a six-lane expressway probably would be open only to buses and cars equipped to pay tolls with electronic windshield tags, according to John Kelly, a consulting engineer hired by the Texas Department of Transportation to devise short-term and long-term improvements to MoPac.

Given the space constraints, Kelly said, the toll lanes probably would be segregated from the existing, free-to-drive lanes with painted stripes or perhaps with permanent, flexible pylons that bend back when hit by a car. The other lanes will remain free.

Kelly said the agency will hold two open houses in September to gather comments and ideas from the public before releasing the recommended design two or three months later.

If all goes as planned, Kelly said, the expansion, which would run from Town Lake to about Parmer Lane, could have federal approval by the end of 2007. At that point, construction would depend on the Texas Transportation Commission's setting aside money to do the project. To date, the commission has tended to look favorably on toll road projects.

Kelly, a former district engineer with the state Transportation Department who now works for DMJM Harris, said the design likely would involve moving the inner edge of the freeway toward the Union Pacific railroad track that sits in the highway median as far north as RM 2222 before crossing over east of the highway.

Engineers have little choice, given widespread and vocal community opposition about five years ago to plans at the time to widen the highway or build elevated sections.

"If you can't go out and you can't go up, you have to go in," Kelly said.

Kelly said the consulting team has met with Union Pacific to discuss how the highway might get some space while simultaneously leaving enough room for a second track to be added eventually for either freight service or passenger rail.

He said the design also will take into account the possibility of having a passenger rail station at 35th Street.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board, which governs transportation planning in Central Texas, voted in 2005 to allow MoPac from Town Lane to Parmer to add a "managed lane" on each side, stipulating that the road could not be widened.

Managed lanes, in some projects, allow cars with multiple occupants to drive free along with those paying tolls.

But Kelly said that in this case, with no physical barrier separating the lanes and no toll booths, it may make sense to allow only transit vehicles and cars with toll tags.

George Eliot


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