AUSTIN, Texas - A drive on MoPac, during a holiday, is a far cry from the typical weekday grind.
The steady flow of traffic since the new Northbound expressway lane opened Saturday comes as no surprise to the head of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, Mike Heiligenstein.
"Columbus Day, you really only have 5 to 10% less traffic, and it really opens up those lanes, what the express lane is intended to do is to capture 5 to 15% of that traffic at a minimum, I think it will open up everything to a degree where you'll see MoPac moving a little bit better, over time,” said Heiligenstein.
It’s important to remember, the design is not of a typical tollway. Northbound begins at Cesar Chavez with a winding tunnel-like On Ramp. It runs only 11 miles with rates adjusting up or down based on the amount of traffic in the 3 reconfigured general purpose lanes.
“I don’t think this was ever intended to be a silver bullet, I think it was intended to give people reliability, on that trip they have to get somewhere on time,” said Heiligenstein.
Its estimated, on an average weekday 14,000 toll transactions will be generated northbound between Cesar Chavez and Parmer Lane.
Saturday = 7,349 transactions.
Sunday = 5,950 transactions.
Monday morning rush hour = 814 transactions (exceeded 7,500 by 5 p.m.)
“In general. I think we will see a lot of casual commuters in there, at the beginning, and I think you see that traffic will ramp up over time,” said Heiligenstein.
Dealing with the expectation of what the expressway will do, whether it’s realistic or unrealistic, is a long term issue for the authority.
The more pressing issue is the anticipation of the confusion the road will cause. Some sections are narrow, especially around Camp Mabry. The off ramps to merge back onto the fee lanes could also potentially create back-ups.
"We want people to be sure they pay attention to the new signs, they avoid getting into the lanes by accident, but if you do get into the lane by accident, by all means, do not slow down, do not back up, just keep going to the next legal exit and get out of the lane.
We don’t want anyone having an accident, or causing an injury, over a dollar or two-dollar toll,” said CTRMA Spokesperson Steve Pustelnyk.
Video cameras have been placed up and down the expressway. The cameras feed live images to a Remote Traffic Incident & Management Center.
Toll road managers, from there, will monitor traffic flow and react to any problems that may develop. Mobility Authority officials also say they will work with people who get on the toll lane by accident.
Construction on the southbound lanes will continue for the next few weeks- with an opening set for late October or early November.