MoPac Northbound Express Lane Opens From Downtown To Parmer Lane

Photo courtesy of Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority

MoPac drivers can finally breathe a sigh of relief. The full northbound Express Lane from downtown near Cesar Chavez Street to Parmer Lane is open to traffic.

MoPac drivers can finally breathe a sigh of relief. The full northbound Express Lane from downtown near Cesar Chavez Street to Parmer Lane is open to traffic.

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s (CTRMA) preliminary usage data shows that drivers are taking advantage of this free-flowing route, demonstrating just how strong the need was for a more reliable alternative.

Bringing Reliability to your Unpredictable Commute

It’s been a long road to opening with major frustrations for all who travel MoPac, and rather than pause to celebrate the success of reduced drive times for northbound commuters who choose the Express Lane, CTRMA will immediately switch gears to put the final finishes on the southbound Lane.

The MoPac Express Lane is the inner-most travel lane on the MoPac Expressway, located adjacent to the general purpose (non-tolled) travel lanes, and separated by a buffer zone with striping and white plastic sticks. It is the first-of-its-kind congestion management tool to be introduced to Central Texas commuters.

The innovative new lane effectively manages congestion using variable tolling, whereby the toll rate is linked to congestion levels. Leveraging supply and demand principles, the toll remains low when traffic is light, and increases as traffic becomes heavier to manage the number of vehicles entering the lane.

According to Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, this ensures traffic in the Express Lane remains free-flowing, even when the adjacent general-purpose lanes are at a standstill.

But this isn’t news to commuters who have been using the north end of the northbound Express Lane since it opened to traffic last year.

While Central Texans know how the Lane operates, the opening of the full northbound Lane comes with a learning curve that the traveling public will need to adjust to.

 

Changes in Traffic Patterns

New traffic patterns can be unclear for drivers who are used to making the same movements on the roadways they travel every day.

The most important thing to keep in mind as drivers adjust to the opening of the full northbound MoPac Express Lane is the new merge conditions, which are very similar to many others in the Austin area:

1. Drivers entering the Express Lane from downtown via the undercrossing will merge with northbound traffic already in the Express Lane. Drivers using the undercrossing will be traveling at a lower rate of speed than those already in the Express Lane due to speed limits and roadway elevation.

2. Drivers entering the Express Lane near RM 2222 will merge with northbound traffic already in the Express Lane. Drivers entering the Express Lane may be traveling at a lower rate of speed than Express Lane traffic, depending on congestion levels in the general-purpose lanes.

Drive Friendly, “The Texas Way”

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is encouraging  “alternate merging,” where motorists entering the Express Lane alternate in a “zipper” fashion with motorists already in the Express Lane, utilizing the full length of the merge area.

This is safer than crossing over into the Express Lane before the defined merge area, which drivers often do if they fear that traffic will not “let them in” or allow them to merge at the end of the tapered merge.

They are asking that all drivers stay in your current lane up to the point of the merge, and then take turns with drivers in the adjacent lane to ease smoothly into the Express Lane in an orderly fashion. We encourage everyone to drive friendly and allow merging for optimal Express Lane safety.

 

CTRMA offering tips for safe merging

Tips for Safe Merging

  • Exercise caution when merging with traffic of differing rates of speed; either slow down or speed up once you identify a safe gap to merge into
  • When there is enough space to merge, match the speed of vehicles in the Express Lane
  • Drivers are encouraged to participate in “alternate merging” at the Express Lane entry and exit points
  • Use your turn signal to notify other drivers of your intentions
  • Do not stop before merging
  • Check your blind spots, and keep an eye on how much of the merge lane remains
  • Keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you
  • Be aware of other drivers

Exiting the Express Lane

The same merging technique is encouraged for drivers exiting the Express Lane into the general-purpose lanes.

It’s important to plan your route in advance of taking the Express Lane to ensure that you have access to your desired exit from the MoPac general-purpose lanes. For example, do not enter the Express Lane at downtown if you need to connect to RM 2222, as that Express Lane exit merges with the general-purpose lanes north of the RM 2222 exit, which does not allow for a safe connection to the RM 2222 exit from MoPac Express Lane. See the map (above) for more information on Express Lane access points.

When exiting the Express Lane, remember to merge into the first general purpose lane and establish a safe rate of travel before moving into the next general-purpose lane towards the far-right lane, which provides access to the MoPac exit ramps.

How it All Works

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s Traffic & Incident Management (TIM) Center is the heart of their intelligent transportation system.

The TIM Center allows them the ability to monitor their facilities, as well as coordinate resources for incident management and maintenance, allowing for efficient response to accidents and other interruptions to traffic flow such as debris in the roadway.

Seventeen high-definition cameras line the corridor with vehicle detectors set about ½ mile apart. These devices monitor every stretch of MoPac between Cesar Chavez and Parmer Lane with technicians monitoring live video feeds out of the TIM Center.

Operators and an algorithm monitor traffic levels in the Express Lane so that the variable-priced toll rates can be adjusted as needed to ensure they are having the desired effect on traffic volumes.

During periods of low traffic, the toll will remain relatively low, starting at $0.25, to encourage use. As traffic increases, the rate adjusts to maximize the number of vehicles that can be carried in the Express Lanes at target speed of 45 mph for a reliable, free-flowing trip.

During peak traffic, the toll will be set at a rate high enough to preserve the capacity in the Express Lane and provide a reliable trip for users.

If the toll rate is too high and the Express Lane is not being utilized, operators in the TIM Center will receive information from the cameras and vehicles detectors so that the toll can be lowered.

Similarly, if too many cars are entering the Express Lane, an algorithm will increase the toll to discourage too many drivers from entering.

This approach is designed to ensure that people are not paying to sit in traffic.

Checks and Balances

CTRMA has been asked, “What if is there is an accident in an Express Lane? Could the algorithm read that as congestion and automatically drive up the toll rate?”

According to CTMA, they have checks and balances in place to protect against that. If an incident occurs, the detection devices will trigger an alarm. Operators will use the cameras to zoom in, assess the situation and manually lock in the toll rate so it doesn’t increase.

For those who wonder, “How will I know the price of the toll?” or “Will I get overcharged if the price goes up when I am in the lane?”

The price is posted on electronic message boards and visible to drivers as they approach the entrance to the lane so they can decide whether their trip is worth that amount.

Additionally, if the price increases while a driver is already in the lane, they will still pay the price that was posted when they initially entered—or less.

When the price increases, there will be a delay between the time the higher price is posted on the electronic message board and when the higher price will be applied to transactions.

However, there will be no delay when the price decreases, so drivers will realize the benefit of the lower rate immediately.

To ensure accurate charges, the payment processing for MoPac toll transactions will be delayed so that the trips can be reviewed and billed accurately.

Any necessary price adjustments will be made during this 72-hour delay period to ensure that drivers are not overcharged when they receive their bill.

In addition, cameras will capture photos of the Express Lane pricing signs with time and date stamps at every transaction.

They Say The End is Near

The road to reduced commute times on northbound MoPac was a long one, and CTMRA appreciates the community’s patience as the implementation of the final elements of the southbound portion of this challenging project.

Those who prefer not to pay a toll can continue to travel toll-free in the general-purpose lanes. They will still experience the benefits of the Express Lanes, which diverts some traffic and frees up capacity in the general-purpose lanes.

CTRMA Answers Some of Your Questions

How do I access the Express Lane?

Drivers can access the northbound Express Lane from downtown near Cesar Chavez St, or centrally near RM 2222. Drivers entering MoPac from downtown/Cesar Chavez St. will use the underpass to access the Express Lane, while drivers already traveling northbound on MoPac from points south will enter from the inner-most general purpose lane just north of the Lady Bird Lake bridge.

What is variable priced tolling?

Instead of fixed tolls, the MoPac Express Lane charges a variable priced toll that increases when traffic is heavy, and decreases when it is light to either encourage or discourage use. It leverages supply and demand principles to manage the number of vehicles entering the Lane. Toll rates fluctuate with traffic volumes to maximize the number of cars that can use the Lane while ensuring traffic remains free-flowing.

How will I know the toll rate?

The overhead electronic message boards, which are visible ½ mile in advance of the entrance, post the pricing. The signage near the downtown entrance has two prices: 1) The price of a trip to the exit north of RM 2222; and 2) the price of a full length, 11-mile trip to Parmer Lane. These posted prices are for drivers with a TxTag or other electronic toll tag. The Pay By Mail rates are 33% higher. The lowest toll rate begins at $0.25 per Express Lane segment.

Why build Express Lanes on MoPac?

On a central, urban corridor like MoPac with limited right of way, building an additional general purpose lane would not alleviate congestion because that lane would soon reach capacity, perpetuating the congestion problem.

According to CTRMA, Express Lanes are an innovative congestion management tool that allow drivers to bypass congestion when they need a reliable alternative. They allow drivers to take back the time they would have wasted sitting in traffic, while also offering Capital Metro buses and registered van pools toll-free access to their destination. The MoPac Express Lane is the first in the Austin area.

What if I get into an accident or my vehicle becomes disabled while in the Express Lane?

The Express Lane is wide enough to allow vehicles to get around potential incidents. If you are involved in a collision, move your vehicle to the side if it is safe to do so, and allow others to pass by. Call 911 to report the incident.

How do I pay my tolls?

Toll payment on MoPac is all electronic, meaning drivers do not have to stop—or even slow down, to pay tolls. Drivers with an electronic toll tag—either a TxTag, an EZ-Tag or a TollTag–have their tolls automatically deducted from their tag account, while those without a tag receive a bill in the mail through the Pay By Mail program.

The price posted on the electronic signs reflects the tag rates, while Pay By Mail rates are 33% higher.


 

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2 Comments

  1. Kelly

    I don’t understand how this can be called news when all CTRMA-related articles are lifted straight out of CTRMA’s press releases. It’s not objective reporting; it’s more akin to propaganda.

    Reply
    1. Staff

      Kelly,

      I am sorry you feel that way. We do our best to be as unbiased as possible. Fortunately, the majority of our readers do not have a political agenda.

      Thank you for reading.

      Reply

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