No early opening for MoPac

Part of the MoPac Expressway was supposed to open this weekend but there has been another delay. The slow pace of construction has added to the frustration for those who use MoPac and for officials with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

There's still no traffic on the northbound express lanes of MoPac. Project managers had hoped a section between 2222 & Parmer Ln would be open by now. It has now been pushed back to August. Sekou Cisse, who was hoping for a Saturday opening, says he's been dealing with MoPac gridlock for more than two decades.

"Very disappointing, I used to work down south, and it used to take me more than an hour to get there,” said Cisse who expects there will be another delay.

Jeff Dailey, with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, is a little more confident, although a firm target date for opening the section has not yet been set.

"We are going to have a schedule that will be submitted by the contractor next week; it’s called a recovery scheduled. And they have verbally committed that they wanted to get that done in August, that’s what we are shooting for. We are going to work, doing everything we can on our part to help them get there,” said Dailey.

Ideally Dailey wants an early August opening, but he is anticipating it will most likely be toward the end of the month.

The entire $200 million project has been plagued with construction delays. The biggest problem involved digging lanes for the tollway under the intersection with Lake Austin Blvd and Cesar Chavez.

The contractor, CH2M, blamed hard rock and pushed completion back to late November. It has now slipped to sometime after Christmas.

The Mobility Authority could try to fire the contractor but at this stage of the project doing that may not be a viable option. That’s because in a strange twist there's the possibility the contractor could even get hired back.

"There is a provision in there is they get too far behind then we could pull the trigger, on the default, and then the bonding company would step in, they'd either decide to retain the existing CH2M force or they may bring in another contractor,” said Dailey.

CH2M has been fined for the delays, $73,000 a day. But the penalty has now reached the contractual $20 million cap. Despite losing that big stick, officials at the Mobility Authority hope the contractor will be motivated to wrap up its work. And then drivers like Cisse will be able to usher in the New Year on the fast lane.

When that northbound section does open tolls will immediately be charged. The amount will depend on the traffic load. It could be as little as 25 cents when there are not a lot of cars on the road, but as more drivers use it the toll could increase to more than $5 to help prevent the lanes from clogging up.