Providing the public with opportunities to provide feedback is a critical element of the environmental study process. This input, combined with technical analysis, allows the project team to identify the best options for meeting the project's purpose and need. We received more than 1,500 comments from community stakeholders during the last Open House comment period in 2015. You can find a log of these comments below, as well as a summary of how public input has been incorporated into the MoPac South Environmental Study so far.
Why do we need a connection between downtown and the Express Lanes?
Four of the Express Lane configuration options presented in November 2015 include a non-weaving or direct connection between the proposed MoPac South Express Lanes and the downtown Austin core. Two configurations utilized direct connector ramps that elevated over the existing bridges at Lady Bird Lake. Two other configurations utilized “wishbone” ramps that elevated over the general purpose lanes in the area of Bee Cave Road/Barton Springs Road and would allow Express Lane traffic to merge easily into the correct lane for accessing/exiting downtown.
A non-weaving connection like these between downtown Austin and the Express Lanes would serve the approximately 40% of MoPac South drivers that head downtown in the morning, or the approximately 51% of traffic leaving downtown in the evening to travel on MoPac South. This type of connection increases the safety of all users by eliminating a potentially dangerous weaving condition that would be exist in the two of the Express Lane configurations under consideration that require Express Lane traffic to merge into the general purpose lanes south of Lady Bird Lake to access existing downtown ramps.
Direct connections to/from downtown would improve travel times for Express Lane users by up to four minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. These connections would improve travel times for each general purpose lane user by up to 3 minutes in the morning and 7 minutes in the evening.
Why wouldn't removal of tolls from SH 130 improve congestion on I-35?
It has been suggested that, if tolls were removed from SH 130, traffic that normally utilizes I-35 would utilize SH 130 instead, freeing up I-35 to handle more traffic from MoPac, making MoPac improvements unnecessary.
The Texas Transportation Institute evaluated what the impact would be to I-35 if tolls were removed from SH 130. Their analysis showed that the majority of traffic on I-35 is local drivers making local trips. These drivers would not elect to take SH 130, even if the tolls were removed, because their trips were over short distances within the I-35 corridor.
Because the level of congestion on I-35 would not change, even if SH 130 was toll free, drivers who typically use MoPac would not be motivated to move to I-35.
Why aren't MoPac South, the MoPac Intersections and SH 45SW being considered under a single study?
The Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority are working together to implement a number of critical mobility improvement projects, including the MoPac Intersections (soon to be under construction), SH 45SW (currently under construction), and MoPac South (currently under environmental study).Each of these projects is included as a stand-alone project in the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (CAMPO) 2040 Plan, and as such, is being studied separately.
In addition, each of these projects has independent utility, meaning each would benefit drivers and would be considered a reasonable expenditure, even if no additional transportation improvements in the area are made. Because of this, they are being studied independent of one another. If built, these projects could function as stand-alone improvements, even if other improvements in the area do not advance, or advance at a different schedule.
Is this project part of a plan to construct a tolled loop around Austin, connecting I-35 to MoPac via SH 45SW?
No. SH 45SW is a four-lane divided toll road currently under construction by the Mobility Authority that will connect the southern end of MoPac to FM 1626. As part of the CAMPO planning process, Hays County included an unfunded study in the CAMPO 2040 Plan to look at the feasibility of an extension of SH 45SW that would connect MoPac to I-35 via SH 45SW.
Despite this, there is no funding in the CAMPO 2040 Plan to connect MoPac to I-35, extend the SH 45SW project east of FM 1626, or add more than two lanes in each direction to MoPac. No projects of this nature are moving forward.
How would a connection between I-35 and MoPac affect traffic on MoPac?
In response to community inquiries about potential impacts to MoPac traffic as a result of an I-35/MoPac connection, the Mobility Authority worked with Stantec Consulting Services, which specializes in traffic studies, to produce a traffic report on these potential changes. That report looks at what the potential trips per day would be in 2030 and 2040 on both Texas 45 Southwest and South MoPac near Slaughter, assuming that the toll lanes are added to South MoPac.
The report concluded that completing a freeway connection between I-35 and MoPac’s south end would have a minimal effect on MoPac traffic, adding only about 2,600 more vehicles daily in 2030 (and 3,600 more vehicles in 2040) than if Texas 45 Southwest stopped at FM 1626 instead. Without a connection between MoPac and I-35, an average of 54,700 vehicles are expected to travel daily on the southern end of MoPac in 2030.
Why won't the addition of non-tolled general purpose lanes help to provide reliable travel times on MoPac South?
Even if funding was available to construct general purpose lanes, latent traffic demand, or drivers who currently use other routes to avoid MoPac South congestion, would quickly fill these lanes, and they would become congested and unreliable like the general purpose lanes on MoPac are today. The approach to solving congestion by simply adding multiple lanes of pavement is not sustainable and has not proven to be effective in managing traffic, promoting transit, or providing a reliable travel time option.
Variably priced Express Lanes (the cost to use the lanes increases and decreases based on real-time demand), provide reliable travel times by ensuring that the same travel speed is maintained, regardless of the time of day or level of congestion. This is why Express Lanes are being implemented around Texas and other states to manage congestion and provide reliable travel times rather than patching the problem by adding general purpose lane capacity just to face the same challenges in a few years.
Studies show that the addition of Express Lanes would improve travel times for all users, including those in the general-purpose lanes. At a minimum, travel times would be improved by 20 minutes for those in the general-purpose lanes. If we do nothing, travel times in 2035 are anticipated to increase by over 35 minutes for drivers in the general-purpose lanes.
Why shouldn't we build High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes?
Constructing HOV lanes was considered as a preliminary alternative for the MoPac South Environmental Study. Ultimately, the Express Lane(s) Alternative was selected because it best meets the Purpose and Need for the project.
HOV lanes do not meet the Purpose and Need for the project and were eliminated from consideration after the initial screening due to the following factors:
- Reliability in HOV lanes cannot be assured without a variable toll-pricing component to ensure a minimum average speed or without limiting vehicles to three or more passengers, which would result in an under-utilized facility. Express Lanes incentivize car-pooling by guaranteeing a reliable trip and allowing riders to share the cost of the toll.
- The Texas A&M Transportation Institute reported that as of spring 2013, Departments of Transportation across the country converted or planned to convert 24 HOV lanes to either Express Lanes or High Occupancy Toll lanes.
HOV lanes are often under- or over-utilized. Research revealed that on roads where HOV access is limited to vehicles with three or more passengers, the lanes are under-utilized. Conversely, when HOV access is granted to any vehicle with two or more passengers, the lanes are over-utilized.
I can't afford to use the Express Lanes everyday; how will this project benefit me?
Studies show that the addition of Express Lanes to the MoPac corridor would improve travel times for all users, including those in the general-purpose lanes. At a minimum, travel times would be improved by 20 minutes for those in the general-purpose lanes.
Studies conducted on I-85 in Atlanta, GA reveal that approximately 2% of the vehicles using the Express Lane during the morning rush hour are commuter buses, but they make up around 26% of the people moving through the lane. Because public transit buses would travel toll-free in the Express Lanes, this would make riding transit a true alternative to driving alone, and a dependable option for those who need a reliable trip but do not want to pay a toll.
If we do nothing, travel times in 2035 are anticipated to increase by over 35 minutes for drivers in the general-purpose lanes.
Incorporation of Community Input
Check out the exhibit below to learn more about how community input has been incorporated into the design of the Express Lane Alternative.
The close of the most recent official comment period on November 20, 2015 kicked off the next steps in the environmental study process, which is the development and publication of an Open House Summary and Analysis Report. Guided by the process set forward by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Texas Department of Transportation, the project team is working now to log and develop responses to each of the comments and questions submitted. After responses are developed and the document is reviewed, it will be released here. We appreciate your patience with this process. The log of official comments submitted during this comment period is available until the Open House Summary and Analysis Report is available.
Reports from previous official comment periods are available.
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