New MoPac toll lane proving faster, but completion date grinds into 2017

It’s not a gridlock buster, but the northbound section the MoPac expressway that opened earlier this month is already saving commuter’s time. While officials with the Central Texas Regional Mobility authority say they are happy with the new data, they were also told it may be summer before the entire project is finally completed.   

It seems the traffic on MoPac typically moves faster than the construction crews trying to expand it. 

Ground was broken in 2013 on what was supposed to be a two year project. Opening day now is not expected to come until the summer of 2017. Despite that disappointing news, there is cautious optimism at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, according to operations director Tim Reilly.

"I’m really looking forward to, as you say, being handed over the keys to the car so I can start it up,” said Reilly.

The need for relief is well documented. In 2015, it was calculated up to 170-thousand vehicles, each day, traveled northbound on MoPac from Lady Bird Lake to the Hwy 183 interchange. From there, northbound to Parmer Lane, the daily traffic count was just under 130-thousand vehicles.

But with each delay in this long running project, doubt in what it may accomplish, has gained traction.

"It’s going to open, eventually, but I don’t know how much it’s going to help, Austin gets more and more congested every day,” said Austin commuter Sean Redmond. The entire project runs 11 miles and cost a little more than $200 million. To use the express lane, tolls will fluctuate depending on how congested the main lanes are.

On October 15th, one northbound section opened up and early analysis has provided some promising data.

"It looks very promising, what we were expecting is what we are seeing,” said Reilly.

Video provided by CTRMA shows how vehicles are leaving the main lanes for the fast track.  It’s estimated, during the evening rush, the toll lane has been filled with as many as 800 vehicles an hour.  Drive times on the expressway from 2222 to Parmer Lane are running 6 to 12 minutes faster.  The main lanes are also a little faster but that could just as quickly change.

"The question is, we don’t know exactly how many people are using different routes, to get to their locations and when they realize MoPac is no longer as congested as it was that they may back fill onto MoPac,” said Reilly. So far it has cost commuters about 50-cents to travel the 6 miles of tollway that's now open.

If you use the tollway, right now, you will not be able to jump off to go northbound on Hwy 183. Eventually there will be an exit for that, it’s located just after 2222, its part of the southern leg of the tollway that will not open until early next year.