AUSTIN -- Some help is on the way for drivers frustrated with traffic on MoPac. A construction contract was approved Wednesday for improvements, including building an express toll lane in each direction.
By the end of 2015, drivers will have a choice to use an express toll lane, but getting to that point could prove a challenge. Over the next two months, you can expect to see crews out surveying, as well as moving utility poles and water and electric lines to get ready for the project.
Actual construction is expected to begin later this year.
An express toll lane, one in each direction, will be built in the center near the tracks. No new land was acquired for the project. A buffer zone with plastic delineator sticks will separate the lanes, plus sound walls will be built on property lines.
"It's a pain sitting on MoPac now, so if anything is going to better it, then I'm for it," said Driver Chris Tamez.
Another driver said, "I might pay for the express lane if it's a fair price."
When traffic is heavy, the tolls will go up. When traffic is light, they'll go down. Electronic signs will display the costs of the changing tolls, so drivers will know the price when making the decision whether to use the express lanes.
Steve Pustelnyk is the spokesperson for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. He says at the cheapest time, a full trip would cost about 50 cents.
"On Friday at the peak of peaks, it could be four or five dollars or more. It really will be driven by the users. If nobody wants to use the lane, and they think it's too expensive, then the price will go down," said Pustelnyk.
The tolls are a way to control the number of cars in the express lane. The goal is to always have one lane flowing, even 10 years from now.
The Mobility Authority will oversee the tolls and the improvement project at an overall cost of about $200 million.
Pustelnyk warns construction over the next two years will impact traffic.
"People need to be prepared. It will be an unpleasant couple of years as we build these improvements. There is a pay off in the end," Pustelnyk said.
During construction lanes will not be closed on the weekdays to help keep traffic moving.
The 11-mile MoPac improvement runs from downtown to Parmer with only three on-off points; one where it begins at Ladybird Lake, another at Far West Boulevard near 2222 to provide access to 183, and at Parmer Lane.
The project also includes improvements for bicycle and pedestrians along the corridor.
You can watch a conceptual video of what MoPac will look like by clicking here.