10 Years of Connecting Central Texas

By Mike Heiligenstein

2013 will bring a lot more people to Travis and Williamson Counties, and the Mobility Authority will work hard to connect those folks—and all of us—to our jobs, homes and the special places we love. This may be the most challenging year in our 10-year history, but our past work has put us in a good position to face those challenges.

The region’s northwest gateway—183A—is up and running. It is operationally successful and meeting financial expectations.

In the next 12 months, you can expect the northeast gateway—the Manor Expressway—to be completed. Phase 1, the intersection of US 183 and US 290 and the first 2 miles of the Expressway, has facilitated a smooth transition between those roadways since late December 2012. Phase 2 takes the Expressway out toward SH 130, creating an alternative route to the University of Texas, downtown Austin and points south for people traveling from Round Rock, Hutto and parts of southern Williamson County. When this phase is completed, drivers will find it just makes sense to take SH 130, the Manor Expressway and US 290 to connect with Interstate 35 headed south. No longer will I-35 be the only way to get between Austin and Round Rock.

In addition to providing new roads and improving the daily lives of drivers, highway construction itself brings an important boost to our economy. Our contractors currently have more than 500 employees working on that $426.5 million Expressway.

On the other side of town, drivers who take MoPac between Parmer Lane and Lake Lady Bird—as many as 160,000 per day—this year will see start to see highway construction that will ultimately bring them many benefits. But while those improvements are under way, the drive may be frustrating.

In February, the Board of the Mobility Authority selected a contractor to design and construct the improvements to MoPac that have been approved by the Federal Highway Administration and developed by neighbors and other stakeholders over the past two years.

Expect to see construction begin in late 2012, early 2013. MoPac is one of Austin’s most important transportation arteries, and we know that this construction project will be disruptive to both commuters and nearby residents.

So the Mobility Authority is making special efforts to create the least hassles possible during this process. In any contract we sign, we are going to place substantial financial penalties on the contractor if existing MoPac lanes are closed between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays.

We are also expanding our communications effort to keep people informed of the construction progress. A 24/7 hotline will be available when issues and concerns arise.

But we understand that despite our best efforts, drivers in 2013—and beyond—will see only the construction hassles and not the benefits of the MoPac Improvement Project. Construction will take two-and-a-half years. Greater reliability, sound walls and pedestrian and cycling paths are coming, but not in 2013. We’ll have to keep our eyes on the prize while enduring the process.

We will also be actively preparing for projects this year in several other locations —Oak Hill Parkway, Bergstrom Expressway and MoPac South—as well as US 183 between MoPac and 183A. We have begun processes to collect public input that we expect will bring solid, financially viable and innovative engineering plans that can be taken to the Federal Highway Administration.

What does all this ultimately mean? It means this community is involved in the tough work of achieving and sustaining mobility during its continued growth. There will be construction noise for neighbors, delays for drivers and many, many open houses, town hall meetings and work sessions so that neighbors can work out their differences over the design of new roads, environmental controls, shared-use paths, sound walls and aesthetics.

These are not easy tasks, and the benefits sometimes seem a long way off. But we believe this community is up to the hard work needed to deal effectively with these necessary changes. We are investing in new transportation, and drivers are making the choice to use tolled roadways to reduce their drive time or make their speeds more reliable.

Together, we’re making progress as we grow.

Mike Heiligenstein is executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

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