Tag Archives: MoPac

Holy Cow! Dallas Also Embroiled In Toll-Road-In-The-Park Battle

By Bill Oakey – May 8, 2015

Thursday night’s Austin City Council hearing on toll lanes over Lady Bird Lake brought back fond memories of grass-roots citizens coming together to fight for the Save Our Springs Ordinance (SOS) back in the early 90’s. The overwhelming majority of last night’s speakers do not want a double-decker bridge with unaffordable surge-priced tolls built over Lady Bird Lake.

Highlights from the meeting included Travis County Commissioner and SOS co-founder, Brigid Shea, reading a letter from Luci Baines Johnson. The crowd in the Council Chambers went wild! Several speakers pointed out that major cities around the world are now or have been removing highways from parks and waterways. These include Seattle, Portland, Boston, Singapore and even Seoul, South Korea.

When the dust settled and all the speakers had made their appeals, newly elected Mayor, Steve Adler, shined like a beacon. He spoke eloquently of Lady Bird Lake, Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores being the “Crown Jewels of Austin.” No one who engaged with him could match his grasp of the details. There wasn’t a person in the room who could match Adler’s acumen for citing Federal regulations, previous CAMPO grant application language or any other minute details. (My own whimsical thoughts of challenging the Mayor to a game of Scrabble have been placed on hold indefinitely).

After lengthy discussions and much nitpicking over the wording, the City Council voted 9 to 2 to adopt a resolution calling for an independent City study of alternatives for the road’s size and location. The resolution also calls upon the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), to work closely with City officials in their own study, which is already underway. Importantly, the resolution does not call for abandoning the road project altogether. Many speakers supporting the single option of four toll lanes over Lady Bird Lake characterized the Council resolution as nothing more than an environmentalist attack on traffic relief for South Austin.

Take a Look At What’s Happening In Dallas!

It turns out that the good people of Dallas are fighting a very similar battle. And it will all come to a head in a big City Council election happening tomorrow (Saturday May 9th). Take a look at the article below:

Poll finds Dallasites’ support for toll road within Trinity River levees tepid

 Follow @brandonformby bformby@dallasnews.com

Transportation Writer, Dallas Morning News

April 22, 2015

As the size of the Trinity Parkway grew in recent years, so did a chasm between how Dallas residents and top city officials view the controversial toll road, a poll by The Dallas Morning News shows.

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Highlights From The MoPac Rally And A Summons To The City Council Meeting This Thursday

By Bill Oakey – May 3, 2015

If you missed the big “Keep MoPac Local” Rally on Saturday, please take a moment to enjoy some photos from the event. Then mark your calendars for this coming Thursday, May 7th. Plan to come and join the gathering of citizens at the Council Chambers at 301 West 2nd Street. You are urged to come at 4:00 PM and support Item 26, which is a resolution opposing the construction of new toll lanes over MoPac through Zilker Park and across Lady Bird Lake. Speakers can sign up at the kiosks in the City Council Chambers from now through Thursday.

You can see the resolution here. The resolution is sponsored by Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo, and co-sponsored by Council Members Ann Kitchen, Leslie Pool, Gregorio Casar and Delia Garza. 

Why Should We Oppose Four Toll Lanes Over Lady Bird Lake?

This project is not a transportation plan. It is a TRANSFORMATION PLAN!

If you are a wealthy homeowner in a new subdivision built over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, then you might love this new tollway and the bridge. It will only cost you upwards of $12 to $14 per trip to use the lanes. That adds up to a whopping $504 to $588 per month for 21 workdays! And many of us are opposed to the added noise and pollution in Zilker Park near and along the Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge. We don’t like the idea of dumping thousands of cars onto Cesar Chavez at Austin High School as a route into downtown. The ultimate goal of this project is to connect SH-45 SW, I-35 and MoPac, transforming local streets in Central Austin near downtown into a totally gridlocked traffic nightmare.

Two Other Important Meetings You Should Plan to Attend

1. Attend -This Tuesday, May 5 at 10:AM – Travis County Commissioners Court, 700 Lavaca. Toll Road Authority presentation.

2. Attend and Oppose – Next Monday, May 11 at 6:00 PM – Joe C, Thompson Conference Center, 2313 Red River, Room 3.102. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) will vote to adopt the 2040 Transportation Plan. Come and speak against the Southern MoPac lanes over Lady Bird Lake. (Oppose inclusion of the 4 toll lanes on South MoPac, SH-45 SW, & Connection to I-35).

Websites to Visit for Project Background and Details

1. Keep MoPac Local

2. SOS (Save Our Springs) Alliance

Photo Highlights of the Rally On Saturday

Tremendous thanks to the many volunteers who worked to put the rally together and to keep us informed about the financial and environmental encroachment of toll roads over Lady Bird Lake. One person really stands out. Brigid Shea, the founder of SOS back in the 90’s, and now one of our Travis County Commissioners, did a fabulous job helping to organize the rally and serving as MC. Click to enlarge the photos.

Brigid Shea & Bill Bunch

Brigid Shea & Bill Bunch


Bill Oliver

Bill Oliver


City Council Member Leslie Pool


Hope Springs Eternal

Hope Springs Eternal


A Very Good Question

A Very Good Question


Tranquility At Risk

Tranquility At Risk

Rally Tomorrow To Stop $12 to $14 Toll Lanes Over Lady Bird Lake!

By Bill Oakey – May 1, 2015

One of the biggest rallies to hit Austin in a long time will take place at 10:30 tomorrow morning, and you need to be there! Even if you had other plans, this will be a moment in history not to be missed.

Mayor Steve Adler, Commissioner Brigid Shea, other leaders and  several of Austin’s most prominent grass roots organizations are hosting this event to stop a massive double-decker toll bridge over Lady Bird Lake. If it were built, not only would the tranquility of Zilker Park and Lady Bird Lake be lost forever, but drivers who use these toll lanes would be hit with tolls up to $12 to $14 per trip.

Picture yourself strolling along the hike and bike trails like you’ve done for years. Now you are about to enjoy the peaceful breeze and the views as you step onto the Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge. Suddenly you are transported to five years in the future. All you can hear is a deafening roar. The bridge vibrates and shudders as you try to walk. The person standing next to you can’t hear a word that you say…Then you’re back in 2015. You hear an old song with a new meaning, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Don’t let it happen. Come to the rally tomorrow!

RALLY to STOP the Double Decker Toll Roads over Lady Bird Lake

Saturday, May 2 @ 10:30am

Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge – Under Mopac (near Austin High School on Stephen F. Austin Blvd)

The toll road authority plans to build FOUR TOLL LANES on MOPAC from Cesar Chavez to Slaughter Lane, including a double-decker toll road bridge over Lady Bird Lake & Zilker Park with a flyover next to Austin High School.  The plan will not increase public lanes, only add expensive toll lanes (possibly costing as much as $12-14 a trip) & expand MoPac to 12 lanes! (I-35 has 8)  The toll authority has added this plan to our regional transportation plan (called CAMPO 2040 Plan) – we’re urging them to scale this plan back. The CAMPO Plan also includes connecting I-35 to MoPac via SH45 SW, creating a western bypass and adding thousands of extra cars & trucks DAILY to MoPac. 

If you love Austin and want to protect our Lady Bird Lake, Zilker Park, Barton Springs, Hike/Bike trails, Austin High School, Lamar Beach, Neighborhoods & Downtown – Please be at the RALLY this Saturday.

This four lane toll road / double-decker bridge plan was authorized by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) Staff & Board of Directors.

Please visit the Rally Facebook page and Keep Mopac Local for more information.

CTRMA’s drawing of expanded MoPac, plus double-decker over Lady Bird Lake & Zilker Park (12 Lanes of traffic)  Will block out sky above Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge!

RALLY HOST COMMITTEE (partial list)

Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner
Steve Adler, Austin Mayor
Kathie Tovo. Austin Mayor Pro Tem
Delia Garza, Austin Council Member
Leslie Pool, Austin Council Member
Amber Elenz, Austin ISD Board Trustee
Paul Saldana, Austin ISD Board Trustee
Laura Morrison, Former Austin Council Member
Jim Harrington, Founder/Director Texas Civil Rights Project
Nelson Linder, President NAACP
Dr. Sterling Lands, II, Senior Pastor Greater Calvary Church
Heyden Black Walker, Reconnect Austin
Clark Richards, Attorney & son of Ann Richards
Susan & Jerry Jeff Walker, Environmental Leaders & Musician
Robin Rather, Environmental Leader

Keep Mopac Local Coalition:

Save Barton Creek Association
Save Our Springs Alliance
Austin Sierra Club
Clean Water Action
Environment Texas
Friendship Alliance of Northern Hays County
Fix 290 Coalitions
Tex PIRG

—————————————————————–

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Composed by Paul Simon

When you’re weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you

I’ll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on, Silver Girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine
If you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

The MoPac Lexus Lanes: A More Fair And Compassionate Alternative

By Bill Oakey – Revised Version, April 30, 2015

Longtime Austinites know only too well what a traffic nightmare MoPac has become. Even the name “MoPac” conveys gloomy and forboding thoughts. How many times have heard somebody say, “I sure dread getting onto MoPac today,” or “Can you think of any other way to get there besides MoPac?’

For years we have heard politicians and transportation officials talk about possible improvements to MoPac. Last year, we finally heard about a plan. But for nearly all of us, it was not a proposed plan up for discussion. Instead, it was a “Here’s how it’s going to be” plans. (I was tempted to say, “It’s our way or the highway.”)

The CTRMA, which is the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, has decided that it’s in all our best interests to “fix” MoPac by adding new toll lanes. It’s bad enough that our local leaders did not fight hard to keep MoPac free. After all, if the sections of MoPac and I-35 that run through Austin are not the highest priority for State funding, then tell me which other roads are.

Later this year, North MoPac will usher in new “express lanes” for the privileged few who can afford them. The tolls will be jockeyed up and down by a convoluted system designed to “manage” the traffic flow on the new lanes. The more traffic, the higher the tolls. This particular scheme has been adopted in other cities. But CTRMA’s version is a terrible idea for many reasons.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This plan was dumped in our laps with little widespread public discussion. We haven’t been told how much the seesawing scale of tolls will cost those bold enough to try this brand of “traffic relief.” But we can be sure of one thing – the price will not be cheap. Especially in an increasingly unaffordable Austin.

Here is the picture that comes to mind with the new Lexus Lanes. One reason that MoPac has become so crowded is that thousands of folks have been priced out of their Central City homes into more affordable suburban neighborhoods. These are the good, hard working citizens who paid their taxes in Austin for 20 or 30 years, if not longer. What is their reward for helping to make Austin the desirable place that it is today? Banishment to the suburbs with high commuting and car maintenance costs. Not to mention the excruciating traffic woes.

The people who face the biggest financial burdens and deserve traffic relief the most are being told that their place on the “improved” MoPac will be at the back of the line. As they sluggishly crawl through gridlocked traffic day after the day, they will be treated to a most unwelcome sight. A zippidy-fast  parade of well-to-do drivers will be streaking by in their Lexuses, Teslas and fancy sports cars. These folks will not even notice that there are thousands of “regular people” inching past their hometown neighborhoods, en route to suburban exile. Instead of worrying about traffic, the Lexus set will be savoring their luxury shopping and dining experiences at the Domain or something similar.

So, What’s the Word On the Toll Cost and Other Big Questions?

Just chew on these words, taken directly from the MoPac Express website:

1. How high can the toll rate go?

There is no limit on the toll rate. Most of the time, the rate is expected to be $4.00 or less, but it could be much higher at times when traffic is especially heavy and demand to use the Express Lanes is high.”

(Note that at $4.00 per one-way trip, the monthly cost for 21 workdays would be $168.00. But it will only be that low when traffic is not “especially heavy.”)

2. Will carpools pay a toll to use the express lanes?

“Yes. Drivers who carpool will pay the same toll as regular users. However, because carpoolers are sharing a ride, they will have the option to split the cost, making trips more affordable.”

(In a review of several other cities with express lanes, every single one I found offered free access for carpoolers and even motorcycles).

3. Will disabled veterans, Purple Heart and Medal of Honor recipients be exempt from paying the tolls?

“The Mobility Authority Board and staff are grateful for the dedication and sacrifice of our military veterans. However, in order to ensure the Express Lanes remain free flowing, toll free travel will only be provided to buses and van pools operated by public transit agencies like Capital Metro and to vehicles specifically exempt from toll payment under state law.”

(OMG! Many other Texas toll roads offer free access to these classes of veterans. See this link).

4. The first item under the “Tolling” section of the FAQ’s on the MoPac Express website contains the most important sentence you will ever see. To ensure that it is never lost to history, I have preserved it as a screen shot:

“The goal of the higher toll rates is not to increase revenue but to manage traffic and maintain free flow speeds on the Express Lane.”

(Remember that quote. It can help us win the battle to reform the MoPac “improvements!”)

What Can We Do To Take Back MoPac and Preserve Austin Values?

I have submitted the following proposal to the Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners:

  1. Set up a lottery system for regular commuters to register online to be eligible to drive on the express lanes. The winners would pay an affordable fixed-rate toll. Their TxTag numbers would go into the computer system. Drawings could be held every 3 to 4 months.
  2. Determine how many driver slots should be allocated for each drawing. I believe that the majority of the available capacity should go to the commuters. This would need to be measured against the number of registered vanpools, buses and emergency vehicles.
  3. The appropriate number of leftover vehicle capacity could be subject to the variable tolls. There are people who may want to pay for a faster trip for any number of reasons, and some may not use MoPac at all on a regular basis.
  4. Set up a meeting with the CTRMA. Ask them to adopt this proposal on behalf of the people of Austin. The proposal is “out of the box,” for sure. But we will never reach affordability results without innovative solutions.
  5. Ask the CTRMA to deliver a set of potential scenarios for the slope of the curve on the variable tolls. What will the criteria be for determining the variable price points? Why not make the curve as affordable as possible until the traffic gets very close to the capacity limit?
  6. Provide full transparency to the public after the final decision is made on how the express lanes will operate. This is critical to ensure a successful public buy-in for the project.
  7. If there is already a contract in place that sllows the CTRMA to manage the lanes without any oversight or input from the City / County, then meet with them anyway, and urge them to compromise for the good of the community. A positive spirit of cooperation should be at the heart of Austin’s New Way Forward.

If you agree with this suggestion, please use these single email links to contact all members of the Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners Court.

Guest Editorial On MoPac “Improvements”

Oakey: MoPac project will hurt affordability and worsen congestion

Posted: 6:00 p.m. Sunday, April 19, 2015

By Bill Oakey – Special to the American-Statesman

Last summer I blogged about my concerns about building so-called express lanes on the northern portion of MoPac (Loop 1). Now we are confronted with a new plan for more toll lanes on the southern part of MoPac. The new section will include an upper deck and flyovers that will dump thousands of cars onto Cesar Chavez Street next to Austin High School. Instead of improving traffic, this will cause much worse congestion.

No one doubts that MoPac needs improvements. But when you look at the big picture, the current plan is problematic on several levels. The expansion of Texas 45 will ultimately create a link between Interstate 35 and MoPac. It will saddle MoPac with untold numbers of cars from new developments being built over the Edwards Aquifer. Imagine the bottlenecks from all those cars when they exit MoPac. Central city roads have capacity limits, and when you exceed those limits you risk serious traffic gridlock. Adding lanes to MoPac is a welcome idea, but the design should take local neighborhoods into consideration.

On the affordability front, I still can’t swallow the notion that MoPac can never be improved without toll lanes. Why can’t state dollars be used for the sections of MoPac that run through the main part of Austin? I haven’t heard anyone in the Legislature make that suggestion, even though more funding for highways seems to be in the works.

Somebody should step in and nix the cornball scheme for “Lexus Lanes” on North MoPac. The luxury housing binge in the urban core has priced many of the once-considered middle class people out into the less expensive suburbs. Even without tolls, the commuting costs for these residents is high. So adding express lanes for the privileged will not help them at all.

These pay-if-you-can toll lanes will feature a variable pricing structure that actually drives down the number of people who can afford the tolls. During the morning and afternoon rush periods, the toll meter will jump as more cars enter the lanes. The gimmick here is to keep the traffic flowing faster, with fewer drivers willing to pay. But this could easily backfire if too many frustrated drivers clog the toll lanes. These drivers could find themselves paying a lot of extra money, while not moving any faster than the folks in the free lanes. That will push them back onto the free lanes, only to create intolerable congestion on those.

My final concern is the one factor that makes our express lane project unique. Ours is the only one among those listed on CTRMA’s website that does not offer free access to car poolers. That flies in the face of Austin’s traditional approach toward air quality and traffic mitigation.

I shudder to think how much it will cost to build and maintain the complex electronic apparatus to constantly assess and juggle the variable toll rates.

Our local officials should have fought much harder to keep MoPac free. Maybe they will reconsider if the “Lexus Lane” concept receives a lukewarm reception.

Oakey is the author of the blog AustinAffordability.com.

The High Cost And Backwards Logic Of MoPac Toll Lanes

By Bill Oakey – July 13, 2014

Everyone knows that MoPac and I-35 are the two busiest roadways in Central Texas.  So, with interest rates having been at historic lows over the last several years, why hasn’t the Legislature and TxDOT given priority to both roadways and borrowed the money to add more lanes?

I’m talking about more lanes for everybody, not just the fortunate ones who can afford to pay tolls every day in both directions, going to and from their jobs.  There are a number of ironies to this situation.  For one thing, the McMansions and high-density luxury housing binge in the Austin urban core has priced many of the once-considered middle class people out into the less expensive suburbs.  Even without tolls, the commuting costs for these residents is high.  So, adding express lanes for the privileged will not help them at all.

Here’s another strange irony.  The pay-if-you-can toll lanes will feature a variable pricing structure that actually discourages the use of the toll lanes to relieve congestion.  During the morning and afternoon rush periods, the more people who enter the toll lanes, the higher the toll meter will jump.  The theory behind that is to keep the paid lanes moving at a consistently reliable speed.  But, as the lanes gradually fill, the price of entry starts to rise.  What that will do is keep people away and ensure that the free lanes remain congested.

There is only one way to even out the flow of traffic on all of the lanes during peak periods.  This could happen if people drove onto the toll lanes in large numbers, just hoping that their trip will be faster because they paid a high toll.  Well, guess what?  The maximum toll will kick in when the toll lanes are just as congested as the free lanes.  People will figure that out over time and not see enough benefit to paying the high tolls.  That will push them back onto the free lanes, only to create annoying congestion on those.  If MoPac doesn’t have enough traffic now to fill up two more lanes during rush hour, it surely will before long.

In my opinion, the whole yo-yo system was designed by a bunch of yo-yos!  I shudder to think how much it will cost to build and maintain the complex electronic apparatus to constantly assess and juggle the toll rates.  The contract for that must have been a juicy plum for a bunch of political cronies.

Here Comes My Favorite Question – How Do They Do It In Other Cities?

A somewhat similar toll lane system was tried in Seattle with very poor results.  What happened is explained in a June 2013 article called, “If Drivers Won’t Pay to Bypass Congestion, Why Should Taxpayers?”  Here is an excerpt:

“The 10 miles of priced lanes — the only “HOT” lanes in the Pacific Northwest — were converted from HOV lanes in 2008 and cost $18 million to implement. Five years later, Seattle-based sustainability think tank Sightline Institute reports that usage and toll revenue on the lanes are far lower than anticipated. Last year, the lanes collected about one-third the revenue of the most conservative predictions from the Washington Department of Transportation.”

How Much Will the MoPac Tolls Cost You?

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has a website that will answer all of your questions.  The title is “About the MoPac ‘Improvement’ Project.”  There is a long column of information boxes.  The details on the cost of the tolls is in the 45th box.  Here is the key sentence:

“Preliminary studies suggest toll rates will normally be less than $4.00, but they could go much higher at times of peak demand.”

My Comment:  The wording implies that $4.00 is a very modest rate.  The “much higher” amount for peak demand times is conveniently not disclosed.  Even at $8.00 per daily round trip, you would be looking at 21 working days per month for a total “ka-ching” cash register ring-up of $168.00.  But what the heck, it’s only money!

Since You’re Going to Love the MoPac Toll Lanes, How About Some More?

Yes, before the paint gets applied or even has a chance to dry on the decorated sound walls for the MoPac “improvement” project, plans are underway for the sequel.  Are you ready for paid toll lanes on 183 between MoPac and SH 45?  See the news article here.  If you live in Anderson Mill and the modest rate of $8.00 per day applies on that stretch of road, you could also take the MoPac express lanes and zip into downtown Austin.  The total would only run you $336.00 per month.  What a bargain!  Gosh, if only you could make that move out to Cedar Park.  Then you could enjoy the privilege of paying a third set of daily tolls with 183A!

Final Question – Who Gets to Use the Express Lanes?

In other cities where there are special tolled lanes, they are usually established as “HOT” lanes. That stands for “high occupancy toll lanes.”  These are a hybrid of “HOV” or high occupancy vehicle lanes, which we have never had here in Austin.  The cities that use HOT lanes grant free access to cars with more than one occupant, to encourage car pooling and relieve congestion. But Austin couldn’t be that efficient.  Every car using an express lane will pay the same toll, regardless of the number of passengers.  The MoPac “Improvement” website encourages carpooling passengers to “split the cost of the tolls, to make them more affordable.”

Update:  CTRMA Website Shows Links to 11 Cities Across the Nation That Offer Free Access For Carpooling!

If you click this link and review the case studies for all of the cities listed, you will find that 11 out of 12 clearly state that they offer free access to express lanes for carpooling.  Most of the cities also offer free access for private vanpools and motorcycles.  All of our State and local transportation officials owe us an explanation as to why the MoPac express lanes will not offer this access. They need to tell us whether they are really interested in mobility and relieving congestion, or whether this toll lane thing is just a big money grab!   You can contact the CTRMA officials here.  If you contact them, you might also ask for some detailed transparency on the cost range of the tolls at different time periods.  Most of the other cities offer this information online.  Why should Austin have to settle for second-rate service and mediocre treatment of taxpayers?

Here Is One More Final Question…

This one is also from the MoPac “Improvement” website:

Question: “How high can the toll rate go?”

Answer: “There is no limit on the toll rate.”

Click here to listen to the classic Jackie Wilson song, “Higher and Higher.”