MoPac Improvement Project runs over poor Austinites

Gabrielle Wilkosz

Since it was first announced in October 2010, Austinites have hotly debated the MoPac Improvement Project and the impacts it could have on the fourth-most congested city in the country.

The project, which is over a year behind schedule, has already created increases in road traffic that are projected to extend throughout the holiday season. But beyond these temporary inconveniences, the project’s permanent changes are not in the best interest of the Austin community as a whole, particularly when it comes to toll pricing.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, the company contracted to organize The MoPac Improvement Project, has asserted Austin will benefit upon completion of the project.

Implementing seven miles of federally required sound walls, painting the bridges and sound walls and planting additional trees and landscaping, are just a few reported beneficial changes.

But the real questionability of the MoPac Improvement Project isn’t over aesthetic accommodations like painted sound walls. Rather, the main aim of the project, building toll Express Lanes, may disproportionately affect Austin’s underclass. Initial toll rates will range from $0.25 to $4.00 per trip, but according to the MoPac Improvement Project’s website, “could be higher if demand is greater than projected.”

These express lanes are introducing variable pricing, meaning when traffic is heavy and demand for the Express Lanes is high, toll rates increase. When demand is low, toll rates go down.

MoPac is estimated to carry more than 180,000 cars and trucks each day, a figure set to double by 2030. So the two one way lanes are only a great solution to highway crowding for wealthy Austinites who can afford to pay high prices during rush hour.

Low-income workers with professions in custodial services, mechanical maintenance, the fast-food industry or others, will have to sit through traffic despite already being short on time. Yet another tier to the injustices mentioned, remember this is a state-sponsored project predicted to be completed by the end of 2016 or early in 2017.

While it is too late in the game to put a halt to the MoPac Improvement Project, I suggest the private companies of The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and TxTag change policy to account for the plight of Austin’s economically underprivileged. They should reject the lucrative yet unfair plan to introduce variable pricing. Instead, Express Lanes should pay for themselves and then gradually decrease pricing so that everyone can use them.

Express Lane discounts could also be given to members of the underclass. Another solution could be introducing HOV lanes that have kept cities like New York City with less congestion than Austin. The options for how The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and TxTag can work to protect and give back to the community are limitless.

Ultimately, the construction of two one way lanes by private companies should not negate the original purpose of infrastructure, to serve the public regardless of their tax bracket. The expense of high-traffic roads affects all Austinites.It is the people’s taxes that fund private companies like Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to pave our roads. Local government and contracted private companies owe it to their constituents to consider creative, humanitarian ideas for a sustainable future.