There are just weeks to go until the first toll lanes on Mopac become operational.
Express lanes that will open first will be Mopac heading north from the 2222 area to Parmer Lane.
“The tolls are ready to go. We've done all the work we needed to do, we've done a tremendous amount of testing, a lot of modeling, the system is in place, especially for the north end northbound, and we are ready to start tolling that,” said Tim Reilly director of operations at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.
The cost of using express lanes is set by an algorithm and will depend on how many cars are on the expressway, more cars equal higher prices.
“We've done a lot of traffic modeling to determine what we think the toll rate is going to be and we know that the minimum rate will be 25 cents and, while there is no maximum rate set by policy, we don't expect it to get over somewhere between two or three dollars during the rush hour time period,” Reilly said.
Cameras will monitor every inch of Mopac so that operators can adjust prices accordingly, especially if there’s a crash in an express lane. If they feel the prices charged were too high, they have 72 hours to correct them, but they can only adjust rates down, never up.
“As you're approaching the entrance, there's a sign that will tell you what your price will be. When you see that price, the lowest price that you see on that sign will be the price that you pay,” said Reilly.
If prices go up they will be on a three minute delay and drivers will only be charged the rate given when they entered the lane. However, if prices drop, drivers will receive the lower rate.
Those with a TxTag, TollTag or EZ Tag will pay 25 percent less than drivers who opt to have a bill mailed to them. Emergency responders and Capital Metropolitan buses will get a free pass at all times.
“This is not a lane that we expect a lot of people will be wanting to use every single day for every trip, but it is a lane that people will use when they're in a hurry to get somewhere, they have to pick their children up from school, if they have to make a doctor’s appointment, the reasons are unlimited,” Reilly said.
Austin is the third city in Texas to jump on the express lane train. Studies in Dallas and Houston have shown less than 10 percent of drivers frequent express lanes.
Express lanes on Mopac north between 2222 and Parmer Lane are expected to open by the end of August.
Eventually, there will be two entrances and two exits on the north and south sides of the expressway. Drivers will be able to get on or off at Parmer Lane, 2222 or downtown depending on their route.