More pain before gain as new road project about to start

The terrible MoPac gridlock seen during the morning rush hour, earlier this week could be a warning of things to come. The next major traffic meltdown may impact commuters driving through east Austin.

During the middle of the day, there’s not a lot of traffic on Manor Rd. But Sam Evans, who moved to Austin back in the early 90's, says the traffic flowing through the Cherrywood district during the rush hours has become a growing challenge.

"At what point do you cram so many cars on Manor Rd that it’s just gridlock, coms to a stop, there is a point,” said Evans.

That point may be in April; that's when the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will start rebuilding Hwy 183. Known as the Bergstrom Expressway the work will stretch 8 miles from Hwy 71, near ABIA, to Hwy 290. It will take 4 years to complete and during that time main traffic arteries like Manor Rd, Airport and MLK could get overloaded. Rush hour meltdowns, like what was seen on Lamar and So.1st earlier this week, could be the new norm. Those roads heading into downtown were clogged as commuters detoured around work on MoPac and avoided a wreck on I-35.

Jeremy Sapp drives from the south side of town to east Austin to get to work. Monday it took an hour and 15 minutes. The thought of what may be coming has him feeling stuck again.

"I've been here 22 years, so it’s not something that I’m planning on moving, but it sure comes into my mind as to why in the world do I do this,” said Sapp.

It's up to Austin Traffic Engineers to come up with a way to manage all the commuters who will try to get around the construction on Hwy 183. But in a town with only one main mass transit option, that will be stuck in the gridlock, finding a solution will not be easy.

Jim Dale, with the Austin transportation department, says road conditions are always monitored during peak travel times.

"We are working right now with the CTRMA to start planning for those closures,” said Dale.

There isn't a formal game-plan yet for what the Hwy 183 project may cause. A key part of the strategy will involve manipulating traffic signals; an attempt to keep the city moving.

"Until we have those details on when those closures are going to happen, like out here on MoPac, they tried to do most of the closures at night to minimize the impact on the traveling public, I would expect that things like that or that type of thinking would play out to on 183 and others possibly,” said Dale.

A new awareness campaign is also expected to be launched to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. The focus of that will be on asking businesses to put employees on flexible schedules -- which would push their start times outside of the traditional rush hours.

To see the Highway 183 South virtual tour, click here

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