Construction on the new MoPac expressway is scheduled to be completed in about 8 months. With that deadline quickly approaching, road crews are about to shift into high gear.
By next week, the first of 20 sections of sound buffering walls will be up along MoPac. By September, it's expected the majority of the walls will be assembled. It's work that long time Newfield Lane residents, like Don Chabala, welcome.
"We've got some neighbors who have been here for a real long time, lie 40-50 years, they've been raised in that same house everything, and they say they've been talking about this project for as long as they can remember, so it's nice that it finally getting done," said Chabala.
The MoPac improvement project involves adding north and southbound express lanes between Lady Bird Lake and Parmer Lane. Activity in the work zones is set to intensify through spring. The plan is give commuters something to be thankful for by thanksgiving.
"We continue to add resources and are doing everything we can to keep the project moving forward with that goal of hitting the fall 2015 opening," said Project spokesperson Steve Pustelnyk.
There is also the possibility the fall deadline could be pushed back to around Christmas. Problems with the existing road bed have been discovered in several spots. Extra bike and pedestrian bridges have also been added to the project. A key September target date for the contractor may have to be adjusted in order to avoid a penalty from kicking in.
A $203 million state and federal grant is being used to pay for the project. Part of the toll revenue will be rolled into a new regional transportation fund that will be used to pay for future projects. Over a 20 year period it's estimated the express lanes will generate $230 million for the fund.
"I will say when we first open we are expecting some hiccups, that's happened with every one of these projects around the country, we ask people for patience and time for everyone to get use to the new approach and the new lane. And we believe the kinks will work themselves out like everywhere else," said Pustelnyk.
When it finally opens, the MoPac Expressway will not be your typical toll road. Rates will fluctuate. Think of the new lanes as an Uber road. There are two tolling zones with 2222 as the dividing point. When traffic is light, tolls could be as low as 25-cents, but during rush hours the rate could jump to $4. The idea, according to Pustelnyk, is to keep the express lanes from being overwhelmed.
"It's not something everyone will use every day like a traditional toll road, it's meant as a reliever for days you have a high priority trip and also to ensure our buses and van pool can get to their destination on time and that will promote their use."
Paving is currently underway north of the Hwy 183 flyover. Project managers are currently debating whether or not to open that section up early or to wait until the entire expressway is completed.