Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"TxDOT's plan to add one 'managed lane' northbound and one southdbound on MoPac ... is being met mainly with outrage and derision."


Narrow-minded MoPac plan would take its toll

April 25, 2007

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

While most commuters who travel MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) would love to see more lanes on the highway, there is a swell of opposition to the state highway department's proposal for two tolled lanes.

The Texas Department of Transportation's plan to add one "managed lane" northbound and one southdbound on MoPac from Parmer Lane to Town Lake is being met mainly with outrage and derision. To be sure, there is plenty about the plan to worry about.

Painting new lines on the pavement to create the additional lanes means the new lanes will be narrower than most are now, and the shoulders will be all but eliminated in some stretches. Shrinking the shoulders on that heavily traveled roadway creates a dangerous situation that can be expected to lead to more crashes.

Anyone who drives MoPac at rush hour regularly sees vehicles on the shoulders. Some are stalled, others were involved in minor wrecks, but if they can get out of the driving lanes and onto the shoulders traffic continues to flow. Insufficient shoulders will probably mean more slowdowns, hassles, accidents and injuries.

Moving to and from the toll lanes will be nightmarish as well. With more and narrower lanes, and short distances to cross over them to enter and exit, traveling MoPac will become an even more daring dance at 60 mph in two tons of steel.

Since a chunk of MoPac between RM 2222 and Town Lake is hemmed in by homes, utilities and a railroad track, state traffic engineers can only work with the pavement that is there now. In that stretch, they have to shrink the shoulder — at one point to 15 inches — to add a lane in each direction.

But is a tolled lane the best solution for MoPac? Will it increase the danger and make the daily commute more frustrating and hazardous? Transportation officials hope not, but there is no guarantee. A similar project in Dallas resulted in more crashes with serious injuries.

As Austin continues to grow, MoPac needs the extra capacity to handle the additional vehicle traffic. More traffic necessarily means more accidents, no matter how safe the construction. But the least acceptable aspect of the additional lanes is the toll. A toll lane each way will produce higher speeds, add to the dangerous conditions and anger commuters who already paid for that pavement with their taxes.

State transportation officials should strongly consider making the additional lanes high-occupancy vehicle lanes for buses, car pools and emergency vehicles. Other cities, including Houston, have made HOV lanes work, so Austin can, too. Well-managed HOV lanes on MoPac are vastly preferable to toll lanes.

At best, the proposed managed lanes are a $110 million temporary solution. More traffic on MoPac will require a different solution in a matter of years. Like other growing cities, Austin's roads weren't built for the number of vehicles they must carry.

MoPac needs to be expanded as soon as possible, but it doesn't need toll lanes. HOV lanes will be just as effective, if not more so, and not incur the enmity of the driving public. Local and state officials have heard plenty from local residents incensed about the state adding tolls on roads already paid for.

The MoPac proposal is another one, and wholly unnecessary.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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