More toll lanes on MoPac get mixed reviews

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The talk of toll lanes along MoPac south of Cesar Chavez Street has been stirring up a lot of controversy. The Central Texas Mobility Authority, along with the Texas Department of Transportation, revealed plans last month for tolled express lanes stretching from Cesar Chavez Street to Slaughter Lane.

Reaction from Austinites is mixed on the plan. Some think it will make their drive to and from work faster, while others believe it won’t make a difference and will ruin the image of Downtown Austin.

Wendy Hundley moved to Rollingwood four years ago and says the beautiful view of Downtown Austin could be destroyed if a double-decker bridge goes up.

“My first thought was, ‘How loud is this going to be?’ and ‘How is this going to disturb the community and parks?'” she said. “We all love Lady Bird Lake; we all love Zilker Park. There’s music festivals, people flying kites at the kite festival and people visiting it daily for exercise.”

The proposed MoPac South express lanes would be an eight-mile project aimed at reducing traffic congestion along the busy highway. While many people who showed up at a forum Tuesday at Austin High School were opposed to a toll lane, those living a little further south imagine a quicker commute.

“Whether it’s adding a toll road or additional infrastructure, if you don’t do it now something’s going to have to be done,” said David Gingrich, who lives just off Slaughter Lane.

The people behind the MoPac project say if they do not do something now, a trip from Slaughter Lane to downtown will take 30 minutes longer in the next 20 years.

“Anytime we need to go anywhere we’re in the MoPac traffic,” Hundley added. “People say they can get from Slaughter to downtown, but once they get to downtown, they can’t go anywhere. That’s where we live. We can’t go anywhere either.”

An environmental study of the proposed express lanes is still going on. If approved, construction could begin in 2017.

Comparing the projects

An environmental study for the current MoPac Improvement Project, which will add one tolled express lane from downtown to North Austin, began in July 2010 and wrapped up two years later. Construction started a year after that in October of 2013. The road should open late this year or early next year.

The MoPac South Express Project is currently in its environmental study phase. The process started in April 201 and is expected to be complete next year.

“MoPac South was a leading candidate and was awarded $16 million to see what we can do to improve mobility from Cesar Chavez to Slaughter Lane,” said Mario Espinoza, deputy executive director at CTRMA. “So state dollars were used today for the study. Now for the construction of the project, that’s a different story. Currently it looks like we will need to go to the bond market and issue revenue bonds so we can pay back those bonds with tolls or user fees as we collect them from the roadway.”

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