TxDOT and the MoPac 1 project team met with nearly 200
interested citizens at two open houses in April to discuss a recommendation for
improving mobility on Loop 1 from FM 734 (Parmer
  Lane) to the Cesar Chavez
  Street interchange. As proposed, the recommended alternative
involves adding one managed lane in each direction, improving traffic flow
across the Town Lake bridges by adding one more thru-lane each way, and adding approximately seven
miles of noise barriers in residential areas throughout the central corridor.

Over the past several years, Loop 1 commuters, MoPac
corridor residents, Austin-area elected officials, and other stakeholders have
articulated several goals for future MoPac improvements, including:

  • "Don’t go up — don’t go out"
  • Reduce noise and cut-thru traffic in adjacent neighborhoods
  • Encourage mass transit and HOV use
  • Don’t reduce the number of general purpose lanes

Using these as parameters, TxDOT and the MoPac 1 project
team developed a range of options on how to improve travel conditions along the
highway. The alternatives were developed following dozens of meetings with a
diverse cross-section of the Austin community, and then rigorously evaluated to identify a recommendation that
would:

  • comply with the CAMPO Mobility 2030 Plan
  • retain all existing general purpose and auxiliary lanes
  • eliminate the need to acquire additional right-of-way
  • encourage bus and vanpool use
  • accommodate ASA Rail District plans for commuter train
    service
  • provide noise barriers and address other neighborhood
    concerns
  • give commuters the choice of using a lane free of traffic
    congestion

Importantly, while all existing general purpose lanes would
remain available to all travelers for use without charge, the addition of one
new managed lane in each direction would offer drivers the choice of using a
lane designed to keep traffic flowing steadily. Buses and registered van pools would use the managed lanes for free at
all times, and private vehicles would pay a variable fee based on real-time
traffic congestion.

Again, I want to stress that the recommended alternative
would provide a new option for all of us when we need a reliably quick route
into and out of central Austin. The recommendation includes improvements that
would uncork the bottleneck that currently exists at the Town
Lake bridges, and it will help
extend the life of a critical part of the Austin
area’s transportation network. More
detailed information about the recommended alternative is available at
www.MoPac1.org

Questions about the Recommendation

Nearly everyone I spoke to at the open houses recognized
that Loop 1 was not designed for the amount of traffic
it carries today, and that improvements are needed. The conversations we had and the comments we
received at the open houses revealed a broad range of concerns and opinions
about how to improve Loop 1.

Overall, safety is one of the top concerns on the public’s
mind, and I want to assure everyone that safety is and always will be our top
priority. Much has been made of the fact
that in order to add two lanes within existing right of way boundaries, the
general purpose lanes and shoulders would need to be narrowed in some parts of
the corridor. What some folks might not
realize is that several sections of Loop 1 and other
highways in cities across Texas
have 11-foot wide lanes that safely carry traffic today. Even so, the recommended design for Loop 1
includes a number of elements to enhance the safety of the traveling public,
including improved traffic control devices, limited access points and
extra-wide shoulders (where possible).

Some people have expressed concern that charging a fee to
use a managed lane on MoPac is akin to charging a toll to use an existing
public highway. There is an important
distinction here: tolls are charged to all users of a road as a direct method
of funding the road and the tolls remain the same regardless of the time of
day. For the Loop 1 project, fees would be used as a tool to keep the managed lanes free of
congestion and functioning at optimum capacity.

Some folks also questioned whether high occupancy vehicle
lanes (HOV) wouldn’t do a better job of encouraging mass transit use. Actually,
HOV lanes by themselves are not as effective as managed lanes. Nationally, managed lanes have proven to be
an excellent tool for improving the efficiency of roads, especially when
resources are limited. In fact, several
cities are now looking at ways to convert their existing HOV lanes to managed
lanes in order to move more people through a specific traffic corridor more
efficiently at a reasonable cost with minimum disruption to the surrounding
area.

Another criticism I’ve heard is that this project simply
involves re-striping the existing pavement. This criticism ironically stems from the project team’s successful
effort to keep the recommended improvements within TxDOT’s existing right of
way, so as not to intrude upon adjacent residents and other landowners. While the right of way width will remain
unchanged, the roadway and several bridges will indeed be widened. In fact, the approach we have recommended
involves widening the existing roadway and bridges the entire project length,
laying down new pavement, making significant drainage system improvements, and
adding nearly seven miles of noise barriers.

A closing thought . . .

In closing, I would like to emphasize that the recommended
alternative we have presented evolved through a true partnership between TxDOT,
the community and the MoPac 1 consultant team. We strongly believe this project
will provide Austin-area drivers, local residents, and other stakeholders with
numerous benefits, including:

  • Encouraging the use of mass transit;
  • Providing a safer and more effective alternative for
    avoiding congested conditions on Loop 1 (i.e., reducing
    neighborhood "cut-thru" traffic);
  • Reducing traffic-related
    noise in adjacent neighborhoods, where feasible;
  • Preserving and rehabilitating existing general purpose
    lanes; and
  • Giving drivers the choice of using a lane that will provide
    them a quicker, congestion-free commute.

Again, regardless of which alternative is ultimately
selected, TxDOT and the MoPac 1 project team will ensure that Loop 1 continues to be a safe and well-maintained component of Austin’s
transportation network. I can assure
you, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

John P. Kelly
Project Manager, MoPac 1
DMJM Harris