AUSTIN, Texas - Below the construction barrels lining MoPac, between Enfield and Cesar Chavez, out of sight of those traveling on the roadway Monday morning, crews were down in what’s known as the Tunnels.
They were installing safety equipment in what could be difficult choke points.
"Trucks are not supposed to be using the express lanes, there are signs throughout the corridors saying no trucks or trailers allowed, so we don’t expect to have a large vehicle down here that would have a lot of combustible material in it, it’s really smaller vehicles that might crash and have a fuel leak that is the primary concern,” said Steve Pustelnyk with the CTRMA.
With safety in mind, Austin fire fighters visited the job site over the weekend. They drove through the narrow gaps, and identified the best access routes to reach crash victims. They now have a solid action plan of what to do and what not to do, according to Battalion Chief Matthew Cox.
"The fire engine that would be there first, Engine 4, 1000 Blanco, they saw if they came off of 6th St. Northbound they would over shoot it, and that's an important point,” said Cox.
Special water lines, in place for fire fighters to tap into, were checked. There are also sensors to detect standing water, plus storm drains capable of handling a 50-year flood event. Cox said they were satisfied with the design.
Technically the north and southbound lanes are not tunnels, they are officially classified as bridges and underpasses. The total area that’s covered on the southbound side is 460'.
"The Northbound side is a little shorter, at 420. Digging down cause problems and delays for the project, and it wasn't exactly part of the original plan."
Animation provided by the CTRMA shows what the ramps were going to look like. It changed after nearby residents complained the flyovers would obstruct views, and after it was decided going low would help traffic flow.
North bound lanes, according to Pustelnyk, will open Saturday, but rain could push things back.
"At this point our intent would be to wait until the following weekend, we want to be able to do a slow simple opening when we don’t have high congestion to make sure everything is working properly,” said Pustelnyk.
The Southbound lanes, and the tunnel on that side of MoPac, are not expected to open until late October or early November.
Tuesday, a critical vote will take place to keep the opening date on target.
Board members with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will consider signing off on a settlement with the road contractor. The MoPac expressway is about two years past due. That has triggered multi-million dollar penalties against the contractor.