Mopac express lanes will be good initial move toward alleviating traffic

Claire Smith

The Mopac Improvement Plan is in the process of adding an express lane to the three existing lanes of traffic in three different locations throughout the greater Austin area. After studying 12 different uses of express lanes in metropolitan areas across the United States, the Mopac Improvement Project endeavors to use three different express lanes throughout Austin to diffuse traffic during rush periods and create quicker routes for public transportation and emergency vehicles. Although use of the express lane comes at a cost to citizens who choose to use it, the express lane will be a positive first step in diffusing Austin’s notorious traffic problem.

The construction of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s brainchild is an expensive project. A partnership between the Texas Department of Transportation and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization has granted more than $199.5 million to the project, and the Mobility Authority has pledged to deposit $230 million into a regional infrastructure fund over the next 25 years. Luckily, taxpayers will not bear the brunt of financing a project that will benefit countless drivers throughout Austin. The only Austinites who will literally pay for the express roads are those that choose to use them. According to the Mopac Improvement Project, use of the express road will be governed by a variable toll that can fluctuate between 25 cents and $4 depending on road congestion at the time of use. Such high prices for use of the toll road are meant to keep the express lanes moving, not to generate revenue, thereby maintaining the integrity of the project’s purpose.

The only foreseeable problem with the project is that the option to use the express lanes and expedite traffic during peak hours will overcome the consumer cost of the variable toll. As the project’s overview site states, the express lanes are not meant for everyday use and the lanes will not have the capacity to benefit every driver who wants to use them. Additionally, because the project is meant to benefit Austin’s public transportation systems and emergency vehicles, both of which may make use of the lanes free of charge, overwhelming numbers of everyday commuters who elect to use the express lanes threaten to defeat one of the project’s initial purposes. The implementation, however, of a variable toll from the outset suggests the Mopac Improvement Project’s administrators are willing to raise the cost of using the road. Doing so would deplete the number of willing users and preserve the express lanes’ purpose. Austinites should not become wary of the express lanes before the project has a chance to succeed.

The biggest point that should be made about the express lanes is that, in addition to public transportation and emergency vehicles, the project’s beneficiaries could number in the thousands. With three different express lanes located in the greater Parmer Lane area, between RM 2222 and Far West Boulevard and between Cesar Chavez and Fifth streets, thousands of Austin residents have the option to take advantage of the express lanes for little personal cost depending on the time of use. While most independent drivers may choose not to make use of the express lanes now at their disposal, they will no doubt feel the benefits of the express lanes because of those who do. Additionally, the express lanes can impact enormous change for individuals during emergency situations by freeing the roads for police cars and ambulances when such vehicles would have otherwise been at the mercy of Austin traffic. The Mopac Improvement Project has found real solutions to Austin’s enormous traffic problem in a way that is mutually beneficial for the Project and Austin voters with no cost to Texas taxpayers.

Smith is a history junior from Austin.