Instead of another flyover, new approach used with MoPac ‘tunnel’

You think of Waller Creek when you hear 'tunnel,' but this will be the first roadway 'tunnel' for Austin drivers

The "tunnel" coming to MoPac Expressway (KXAN Photo/Amanda Dugan)
The "tunnel" coming to MoPac Expressway (KXAN Photo/Amanda Dugan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It may not be exactly what comes to mind when you hear “tunnel” but that’s what it is. The enclosure — that’s the part of the drive when you feel like you’re inside a concrete box — measures around 200 feet, depending on which side of MoPac you are traveling.

Deputy Executive Director with the Mopac Improvement Project, Jeffrey Dailey, says it’s also built for potential floods.

“There’s a number of inlets that are built into each of the under-crossings. They’re connected into a 60 inch storm sewer,” explains Dailey. “The system is designed for a 50-year storm and that’s a standard in the state of Texas for a major storm event.”

The original plan for this part of MoPac was to build flyover ramps to and from downtown but officials say the tunnel is not only cheaper, but looks better.

“The design build process allows for alternative technical concepts. As far as traffic benefits, compared to the overpasses versus the under-crossing, it’s got the same effect but the overall neighborhood area there’s overall benefits because it’s going under for sound and the view.”

Drivers traveling on southbound MoPac past Enfield Road will be able to exit and make their way into the tunnel, eventually exiting into downtown at the Cesar Chavez Street/5th Street ramps.

Drivers will also have the option of using the express lane or general purpose lanes to continue into south Austin. Those who are headed northbound will access the tunnel from Cesar Chavez Street. Entering the future express lanes will not be an option for drivers from Sixth Street.

Crews will continue to add cameras along the MoPac corridor, so they can have eyes on the road at all times. In order to helps stranded drivers or pedestrians that find their way into the tunnel, Dailey says there is a plan in place.

“It’s going to be pretty difficult for somebody coming from outside the roadway to come in, you have to go through sound walls and railroad tracks, but we do have the capabilities to detect and respond if somebody is in there,” says Dailey. “We have an emergency response that plan we coordinated with the city of Austin. In the case people break down, how emergency responders come in.”

Drivers will be seeing “tunnel vision” this fall once the express lanes are open.

The "tunnel" coming to MoPac Expressway (KXAN Photo/Amanda Dugan)
The “tunnel” coming to MoPac Expressway (KXAN Photo/Amanda Dugan)

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