Operators ready to start monitoring Mopac express lanes

Part of the Mopac express lane project is expected to open in the coming weeks.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority said as soon as construction crews finish work on Steck Avenue, the northbound toll lanes between 2222 and Parmer Lane will be fully operational.

Those with a TxTag, TollTag or EZ Tag will pay 25 percent less than drivers who opt to have a bill mailed to them.

Emergency responders and Capital Metropolitan buses will get a free pass at all times.

17 cameras will monitor the entire length of the Mopac express lanes once construction is complete.

“All of those cameras are pan, tilt and zoom and so the reason those cameras exist is so we can see every inch of that project so we know how traffic’s doing. And so we know whether the toll rate is having the desired effect that we want,” said Tim Reilly, director of operations at CTRMA. 

If the toll is too high, operators at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will be able to manually lower it.

If too many cars are entering the express lanes, an algorithm will increase the toll to discourage people from using them.

“The algorithm is creating a toll based on the information it's getting from those detectors,” Reilly said.

That way drivers in express lanes are not paying to sit in traffic, but if there's an accident in an express lane, the algorithm could misinterpret that as traffic and increase the toll.

“If that happens, those detection devices will set off an alarm. We'll know what camera to go to, we'll take the camera and zoom in to see what's going on, and if we see that that's the issue then we can lock in the toll rate and stop it from going up,” said Reilly. 

Everything that is done in the operations center can also be controlled by operators remotely, but during peak traffic hours there will always be someone keeping a watchful eye over the express lanes.

“When it opens, this center will be manned during the two rush hour shifts; one in the morning, one in the afternoon. The building is manned 24 hours a day and there will be someone here that can maintain the equipment, keep an eye on the equipment and respond to the alerts during the period it's not manned,” Reilly said. 

There are also checks and balances in case there's ever a dispute over the rate a driver is charged.

“We have cameras that are specifically on our rate signs and they're tied into our system. The time and date stamps are all identical and so we save those videos,” said Reilly. 

For those that are sick of construction, which is already behind more than year, there is some good news. CTRMA operators said the end is near.

“It's going to open and we're very excited about the opening. We believe it's going to open very shortly, at least north end, northbound. We think it's going to help congestion on the northbound and, yes, it is going to open,” Reilly said.

CTRMA expects the entire project to be completed by the end of this year.
The north end of the project on northbound lanes should be open by the end of August.

Contractor CH2M Hill has already been fined $20 million for all of the construction delays.       

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