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  • The Darndest Things You’ll Ever Hear About the MoPac Express Lanes

    August 18, 2015| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | No Comments

     

    You know that show “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” Well based on my experience, many adults say the darndest things too! And some even post them on social media sites for everyone in the world to see.

    Recently, we launched a social media campaign to spread the word about how the new express lanes will work and when folks might want to consider using them.

    MoPac Express Lanes Informational Web Page

    MoPac Express Lanes Informational Web Page

    We had an incredible response.

    More than 6,000 people visited our special express lane webpage:

    And more than 4,500 people took our “What MoPac Lane Are You?” quiz.

    WHAT MOPAC LANE ARE YOU?

     

     

     

     

    We used Facebook and Twitter as promotional tools, and being the open and transparent agency that we are, we allowed people to submit comments and feedback for the whole world to see. I of course, had the unenviable task of responding to the frequently funny, occasionally vicious and sometimes misguided comments.

    For those of you who didn’t have the pleasure of seeing these entertaining comments for yourself, I thought I would share a few of them with you. The following comments are from people who were encouraged to take our “What MoPac Lane are You?” quiz.

    I think my favorite comment was:

    Less Quizzy, more Worky

    It was hard to argue with that point. We all want the project done sooner rather than later.

    One comment I just had to respond to was:

    No bike, no like

    If you read my last blog, you already know we are making significant improvements to the bike and pedestrian facilities along MoPac to the tune of roughly $5 million.

    One of the more vicious comments was:

    Looks like y’all are a lot better at making stupid Internet surveys than coming up with solutions to our traffic problems. Seriously, you should all quit your job and start up a tech company. So creative!

    I almost responded to this one with a crying emoticon. Government employees have feelings too you know.

    One of the more misguided comments was:

    Glad you are a propagandist for a project no one likes too. Enjoy the ride, at least someone will!

    Important note here, this person made the mistake of saying “no one” likes the project. You lose credibility when you do stuff like that. That would be like me saying “everybody loves” the project. I know that’s not true. How do I know for sure? Well a recent survey found 51% of MoPac drivers had a positive opinion about the project and 27% had a negative opinion.

    People who took the MoPac quiz found out whether they were most likely to drive in the slow lane, the middle lane, the fast lane or the express lane. One person came up with their own lane.

    Hah! I got the “illegally being converted to a toll road lane!”

    I’ve got to admit that’s pretty funny, but it’s untrue. We aren’t converting an existing lane on MoPac to a toll road lane. That would in fact be illegal under state law. Instead we are spending more than $200 million to widen all of the bridges and add new pavement, so we can open one completely new express lane in each direction.

    Perhaps the most misguided comment we received was the following regarding this person’s lane of choice:

    The one where you people actually come up with real traffic solutions, better public transportation, and not money grubbing toll lanes that are a whopping 4 miles long… yep, that’s my lane.

    There’s just so much wrong with this diatribe. First of all we are not “money grubbing” we are “avaricious.” Not! On top of that, the express lanes are 11 miles long, not four. But humor and basic facts aside, one of the main purposes of the express lanes is to provide a dedicated congestion free route for public transit vehicles like Express Buses. The reality is Express Lanes are one of the most valuable public transit programs currently underway in Central Texas. (By the way I had to use a synonym finder to come up with the term avaricious. Prior to writing this blog I had no idea there was a sophisticated word that meant the same thing as money grubbing.)

    Then there was the guy who fell for the inexplicable anti-Spanish urban myth about foreign owned toll roads.

    I’d prefer to be the gridlock free lane owned by Texans. Sadly it doesn’t exist, more than likely never will.

    Like many unwitting victims of the foreign owned toll road myth, he was surprised to learn that all of the toll roads in Austin are actually government owned and operated. The only local toll road financed and operated by a Spanish concessionaire is SH 130 south of Creedmoor. Personally, I still don’t get why some people dislike the Spanish anyway?

    Side note: A highly educated and politically savvy Austinite recently tweeted that he had a problem with the Spanish owning the MoPac Express Lanes. I was tempted to respond to him in Spanish, but I didn’t trust Google to translate or my boss to appreciate my sense of humor.

    Finally, to end on a positive note, I must admit how much I actually enjoy interacting with people, even the curmudgeons. It keeps the job interesting and challenging. Best of all I occasional get kudos, sort of:

    I just want to salute the social media manager who has to pretend to be jazzed about a toll lane. You, sir or madam, deserve a cold adult beverage, as well as my sympathies.

  • I Want to Ride my Bicycle

    May 11, 2015| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

     

    Have you heard about the family in Maryland that keeps getting in trouble for letting their young kids roam around town by themselves? Well thank heavens there weren’t child protection police when I was a kid, or my mom would have been in jail, because she let me ride my bike just about anywhere I wanted.

    My love affair with cycling began soon after I started to walk and ended exactly 15 years later when I earned my

    MoPac Man in his younger days

    MoPac Man in his younger days

    driver’s license. But in between, I covered thousands of miles. After a short stint on a tricycle and brief experiment with training wheels, I got my first regular bike around the age of five. With that little bike I swear my friends and I created BMX. Long before there was such a thing, we were building jumps and blazing trails through the woods. Soon, I was making short trips to a country store located about a mile from my house. By the age of 12, I was biking five miles to the recently opened mall. It was about that time my parents came up with a brilliant idea. They would send me to a church camp for cyclists.

     

    The first summer at camp, we departed out of northern Vermont for a weeklong trip along the shores of Lake Champlain. We averaged 40 miles per day, carrying everything we needed on the back of our bikes. It was such an incredible experience, the next year I signed up for two trips. One meandered through the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York and the other tour crossed the mountains of Central Vermont. Actually, we meandered up the mountains and raced down them. The third year, I had an incredible experience riding across Cape Cod. It was flat.

    The climax of my childhood biking adventures occurred in the summer of my 14th year of life. My mom dropped me off in Akron, Ohio, so I could ride my bike roughly 175 miles to Chillicothe. The goal was to make it to Zanesville on day 1, spend the night in a motel with my mom and sister and then finish the final 75 miles on day two.

    Well in the days before GPS, I made a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of Zanesville. A bridge on the local road was closed, so I had to use a bridge on the interstate. That led to a cop yelling at me for being on the interstate. He was apparently less concerned that an unaccompanied 14-year-old teenager from New York was riding his bicycle on an interstate in Zanesville, Ohio. Ultimately I found the motel, much to the relief of my distressed mother. The next day I resumed the trip, but succumbed to Ohio humidity about 10 miles from Chillicothe and had to break down and call mom to come and get me.

    I still have my vintage Fuji touring bike, and a few years ago, I pulled it out of the garage and took it to a local sporting goods store for a tune up. I had high hopes of resuming my childhood cycling glory. Unfortunately, the very first time I took it out, a link in the brand new chain popped off, and I had to walk the bike more than a mile back to my garage. It has remained there ever since. It’s a sad admission given how many beautiful places there are to ride in Central Texas. Despite my failure as a middle aged cyclist, I have enjoyed being part of an organization that is committed to improving mobility for cyclists and pedestrians.

    From the outset of our 183A toll road, our executive directive Mike Heiligenstein fought to include a shared use path. When we started our Manor Expressway project, he insisted it have a shared use path along the entire length. And, while a shared use path along the entire length of MoPac wasn’t feasible, he pushed to include more than $5 million worth of enhancements, including a 3 mile shared use path linking the City of Austin’s North Walnut Creek Trail to Capital of Texas Highway. In recent weeks, we’ve been installing a 525 foot pedestrian bridge across the Union Pacific Railroad tracks along southbound MoPac near the Domain. We’ve had more interest in that element of the project than just about anything we’ve done on the MoPac project to date.

    Soon we’ll begin work on the US 183 (Bergstrom Expressway), our biggest project to date. It will have an extensive network of shared use paths and sidewalks and will include a trail head at the Colorado River. It will also link the Lance Armstrong Bikeway to the Southern Walnut Creek Trail.

    With my wife and me on the verge of becoming empty nesters, I think I am running out of excuses for the growing layer of dust on my bike. With all these new bike facilities popping up, the pressure is building, and I think I am going to have to dust it off, get that chain fixed and try out some of these new trails. Maybe you should too!

     

  • Thoughts on Home (and Highway) Improvement

    February 10, 2015| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | No Comments

    A couple of years ago I decided to plant a couple of trees in my backyard. After living in sandy Florida for 20 years I was surprised to learn how hard it is to dig a hole in your backyard in Central Texas. I had a pick axe, but progress was slow and I gave up before the holes were likely big enough. End result, dead trees. It was a hard lesson, no pun intended. I’ve also spent far more time on projects than I planned for due to unexpected conditions. How does this tie back to the MoPac Improvement Project you may ask? Well it turns out even the professionals’ experience many of the same situations us amateur contractors endure.

    For example, geotechnical engineers tested the ground below MoPac prior to construction, but once work began they were surprised to learn the rock underneath MoPac, especially in the area south of Enfield Road is some of the toughest around. Cutting through it to install drainage pipes turned into a time consuming endeavor. Special tunnel boring machines had to be shipped in from out of state, and work on other elements of the Express Lane ramps into downtown came to a standstill while the underground drilling issue was resolved.

    Have you ever cut a cable television line or broke a sprinkler system pipe with a shovel? I’ll plead the fifth here. Well, MoPac was built through existing neighborhoods way back in the 1970’s. That means there are a lot of utilities crisscrossing the corridor and the maps delineating their location are old and somewhat unreliable. As a result, workers have encountered underground stuff that wasn’t supposed to be there. In some cases the utilities were damaged and had to be repaired. Regardless of damage, work had to be stopped until the engineers could figure out how to design around the previously unknown utility. The good news is that we now know where many of the utilities are and we are upgrading a number of them so we don’t have to go back in after the project is completed.

    And then there is the weather. Activities such as paving or drainage structure installation require favorable weather conditions in order to be performed. The chilly temperatures and rain this winter have not been a friend to the project.

    However, there is a light at the end of the (very hard to drill) tunnel! The MoPac Improvement Project has been ramping up work activity. We have added dozens of new workers in the last few months, and anticipate adding nearly 20% more to the workforce in the coming weeks.

    With all the uncertainties associated with construction, why would a company take on a huge task such as the MoPac Improvement Project? As I look back on my own home improvement projects, I think part of the answer is pride and a sense of accomplishment. Despite the repeated trips to the hardware store, and the occasional visit to the doctor’s office, I take great pride in the beautiful kitchen tile, the new wood floor, and the freshly stained front door. Those of us who are working on the MoPac Improvement Project share this same sense of pride and accomplishment as we work to bring you a better MoPac.

  • Someone’s Gotta Go Back to Rockridge and Get a Bunch of Dimes!

    November 19, 2014| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | No Comments

     

    I have always had a keen interest in history. When I started working in the toll road business I discovered that my history professors had skipped some really fascinating stuff. For example, who would have thought that Manifest Destiny involved settlers in the 1800’s paying tolls to get their wagons and livestock across the country? When giving presentations I often use the following video clip to highlight this little known fact. http://youtu.be/SbWg-mozGsU.

    BlazingSaddles

    Most people see this clip from Blazing Saddles and think it’s absurd.  But in reality there were hundreds of toll roads, many of them privately operated, in the United States in the 1800’s. I could write an entire blog about the history of tolls roads in the United States, but since the MoPac Improvement Project is an Express Lane project I thought a brief history of Express Lanes might be a little more appropriate.

    In the 1990’s transportation experts began to realize that High Occupancy Vehicle or carpool lanes had an Achilles’ heel. They didn’t manage traffic very well. Some were congested and some were underutilized. So they came up with the concept of a High Occupancy Toll or HOT Lane. A private consortium involving Cofiroute, a French toll road operator, opened the first HOT lanes on SR 91 (Riverside Freeway) outside Los Angeles in 1995.  SR91According to Wikipedia it was the first private toll road project to be built in the United States since the 1940’s. (However, to be fair, the privately built Dulles Greenway in Virginia also opened that year).

    To maximize use of the new Express Lanes, but prevent congestion, individual drivers were allowed to use the lanes if they paid a variable toll. The toll rates changed every hour according to a pre-established rate schedule that was based on historic traffic volumes. In 1996, the San Diego Area Council of Governments launched a pilot program that allowed 500 single occupant drivers to pay $50 per month for a permit allowing them to use the I-15 carpool lanes. Then in 1998 the program was changed to allow all single occupant drivers to use the carpool lanes. A variable toll that went up and down in real time with changing traffic conditions was used to keep the lanes free flowing.

    Sandag I-15

    Meanwhile in Houston, the carpool lanes on I-10 (Katy Freeway) west of downtown were suffering from operational challenges. Under a 2+ scenario, allowing anyone with two people in the car to use the lanes, the lanes were backing up. When the requirement was increased to 3+ the lanes became underutilized. To address the problem Houston Metro, which operated the lanes began allowing carpoolers with just two people in the car to use the lane if they paid a $2.00 toll.

    From these early pilot projects the number of carpool lanes converted to tolled Express Lanes began to grow. Minneapolis led the way, followed in no particular order by Miami, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland and Salt Lake City. In all of these cases, roadway operators converted their existing high occupancy vehicle lanes to Tolled Express Lanes, allowing solo drivers to pay a toll if they wanted to use them. Because of Federal requirements all of these new Express Lanes continued to allow car poolers to ride for free, although in many cases the occupancy requirement was increased to 3+. As I noted in my last blog, MoPac is not a conversion of an existing carpool lane, and while carpooling will be encouraged, drivers who carpool will still have to pay a toll.

    Today the conversion of existing high occupancy vehicle lanes to express lanes continues at a rapid pKatyace, but the latest trend is to construct brand new Express Lanes. The I-10 Katy Freeway was among the first major Express Lane construction projects in the country. Since then major projects have been undertaken on I-595 in Fort Lauderdale, I-4 in Orlando, I-495 and I-95 in Washington D.C., I-95 in Maryland, and on the North Tarrant Expressway, I-635 and I-35 in Dallas, just to name a few.  MoPac is next in line to follow these major projects.

    Some of these mega projects are being financed, built, and operated by the private sector under concession agreements.  Others are being undertaken by public agencies like the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. The bottom line is Express Lanes are becoming an increasingly popular way to provide an option for reliable travel on highly congested roadways like MoPac.

     

  • Who’s That Dummy in the Carpool Lane?

    August 07, 2014| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

    Recently I’ve received a number of inquiries about the MoPac Express Lanes and whether people who carpool will be able to use them for free. I hadn’t planned to start talking about how the Express Lanes will operate during this stage of construction, but it’s an interesting topic with a lot of passionate opinions, so I thought why not.

    Many of you are probably familiar with the old High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) or carpool lanes that were constructed in major cities over the last few decades. The goal of these lanes was to try to manage congestion by reducing the number of cars on the road. Across the country, there are a wide range of views regarding the value of traditional carpool lanes. Some people love them, some people hate them, and some people try just about anything to drive alone and still be able to use the carpool lane.

    mannequin-300x300The issue of whether to allow carpoolers to drive toll free was studied and debated extensively during development of the MoPac Improvement Project. Based on our findings and a significant amount of public dialogue, it was decided that toll free travel would be limited to public transit buses, registered van pools, emergency vehicles and military vehicles. That doesn’t mean people won’t carpool. In fact, the ability to split the cost of the toll should actually encourage more people to ride together. And, best of all the Mobility Authority won’t have to worry about whether there are any dummies using the Express Lane.

    While only a small number of people may put a mannequin in the passenger seat as a way to try and get a free ride, the issue of carpool enforcement is actually serious business. Smart minds have developed a whole bunch of ways to try and ensure that people are actually carpooling, but almost every option costs money and involves some degree of the honor code.

    For example, several agencies now offer a TxTag type device that has a switch. When you are switchable-transponderdriving alone you switch the tag to solo mode, and when you have other people in the car, you switch to the “I Drive for Free” carpool mode. You can probably imagine the scene on the side of the road. “Honest officer, I forgot to switch the tag back to solo mode!” And that’s just one scenario. Regardless of how you enforce occupancy, it’s expensive and almost always involves paying a bunch of police officers to sit by the side of the road to try and pull over people who are violating the occupancy requirement. And on Express Lanes like we’re building on MoPac, that wouldn’t be easy. So the question becomes, why bother when people are likely to carpool anyway to save money?

    Another problem with carpool lanes is while they can increase the movement of people, they aren’t a particularly good way to maximize roadway use while still ensuring reliable travel times. In some cases, they are over utilized and become congested. But in most places, they are underused, frustrating drivers who must sit in the adjacent heavily congested lanes. In response to these issues, Tolled Express Lanes with variable tolls have been growing in popularity.

    In California, just about every existing carpool lane in the state is in the process of being converted to a Tolled Express Lane. The variable tolls allow agencies to better manage traffic and maximize use of the old carpool lanes without causing them to become congested.

    In places like Austin where completely new lanes are being built, the trend has been to minimize the number of vehicles that can use the lanes toll free. This is important, not only because it improves traffic management, simplifies enforcement, and reduces operating costs, but also because it provides a more reliable stream of toll revenue. And this is critical, since many new Express Lanes being built around the country are being funded with borrowed money, and a consistent stream of revenue is needed to repay that debt. As part of the financing on MoPac, the Mobility Authority is obligated to deposit $230 million into a regional infrastructure fund over the next 25 years. Money from that fund will be allocated by the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board and used to pay for other regional transportation projects, such as improving Interstate 35.

    So, whether you think carpool lanes are the best thing ever or you believe they are a social engineering experiment gone awry, at least now you know why we won’t have to worry if a bunch of crash test dummies or inflatable dolls decide to take a ride in the MoPac Express Lanes.

  • Stuck in the Mud! Adventures in Highway Construction

    June 12, 2014| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | No Comments

    A few days after the torrential Memorial Day rains I decided it was time to update the pictures on our web site. So I hopped into my trusty MoPac Man mobile and headed down the median of MoPac.

    Inner-Tube

    Abandoned inner tube in median of MoPac.

    I entered near Parmer Lane heading south and wound my way around numerous obstacles, including an inflatable plastic tube used for lounging in the pool or floating down the Guadalupe. That should have been an ominous warning sign, but I pressed on taking pictures along the way.

    As I approached Anderson Lane, I observed a significant amount of wet ground ahead, so I stopped to investigate. Heading back north at that point wasn’t easy. So I contemplated the repercussions of forging on, put the vehicle in first gear and gunned it. As I reached the halfway point, I began to panic. The car had slowed, and I could feel the wheels spinning helplessly below me. As the car ground to a halt, reality began to set in. I was stuck, and I was about to endure a whole heap of ridicule from the guys and gals who actually get dirt on their hard hats and construction vests.

    MoPac Man Stuck in Mud

    MoPac Man Mobile Stuck in Mud.

    Within hours of getting marooned in the median, pictures of my predicament were circulating to inboxes everywhere. That afternoon, as my car continued to sink deeper into the ground, I sat in a project meeting. With mud still dripping from my boots, I endured the embarrassment of project managers circulating a picture of my car. They warned everyone that there was still a lot of mud from the recent rains and to be careful. It was also noted that my car, with construction lights still flashing, would probably be out there in the middle of MoPac all night long.

    Fortunately, a sympathetic member of our team came to my rescue and managed to tow me out. With my ego bruised, but my sense of humor intact, I looked to the bright side. I realized a blog topic had been born. And just between you and me, I’ll defend my honor a lit bit and let you in on an industry secret. The real construction dudes and dudettes actually get their vehicles stuck too. In fact, I wasn’t the first person to get stuck following the Memorial Day storms. But, with my shiny clean safety vest and gleaming white hard hat, I was the perfect target for office fodder.

    Since there should be a point to my blog, I will let you know that mud is actually a real problem on construction jobs. We are required by environmental laws to implement a program to prevent soil from washing into nearby streams. That black material you may see strung up along MoPac is something called silt fence. After a heavy rain, it’s supposed to trap all that dirt and mud. And those rocks you see around some areas of the project are to help knock the dirt off of tires before vehicles re-enter MoPac. It’s all part of a concerted effort to protect water quality.

    So what did I learn from all of this? If you’re going tubing, make sure to properly secure your tube, so it doesn’t blow out of your car and end up as an eyesore in the median of MoPac.

  • Everything’s Changed

    April 10, 2014| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

    “Change is inevitable — except from a vending machine.” – Robert C. Gallagher

    When I started working in the toll road industry 20 years ago, coin baskets were a huge part of the toll collection business. Today, all-electronic tolling is making them obsolete. Change is eliminating change as coin baskets vanish from the American landscape, just like tollhouses vanished decades ago.

    HistoricPhoto

    Historic photo, looking south over Camp Mabry

    The world around us is always changing. Change can be difficult to accept, especially for those of us who love history and long for the past. I am as sentimental as anyone. I miss my favorite restaurant (It just wasn’t the same after the owners retired. It eventually closed.) And I mourn the loss of places I once frequented like Kaydeross Park in upstate New York, which is now a lakeside townhouse community.

    These days, it seems like nothing is changing more rapidly than Austin. According to the Austin-American Statesman, 167,000 new people moved to the area in just the last four years. New subdivisions are proliferating, high rise condos are sprouting up everywhere and older homes are being renovated or torn down and rebuilt. On MoPac, the story is much the same. After remaining relatively unchanged for more than 40 years, a major transformation is underway.

    We are building a better MoPac with new Express Lanes; tasteful sound walls; new, quieter asphalt; enhanced landscaping and better bike and pedestrian facilities. Nearby residents will enjoy a more peaceful existence, and drivers will have greater mobility. But, it won’t be the same MoPac that some folks have grown to know.

    The new sound walls will look like the panel painted at left

    The new sound walls will look like the panel painted at left

    The disheveled wooden fences, thick underbrush and unique graffiti will be gone. In its place will be an attractive, but slightly more urban feeling corridor developed with the input of an aesthetics committee consisting of area neighborhood residents and representatives from groups like the Texas Historical Commission.

    Hopefully, graffiti won’t be as much of a problem on the new MoPac because we will have dozens of traffic cameras monitoring the corridor 24/7. If only graffiti artists could be tasered remotely from our new traffic management center!  Actually, the attorneys thwarted that plan, so instead, we’ll be taking the “Naked Gun” approach to rid the corridor of the scourge of graffiti.

    Despite these upgrades, I am sure the facelift will come with a touch of sadness for some longtime residents and even some newcomers.

    The band Lonestar expressed the sentiment well in their song “Everything’s Changed”.

    “They put up a plant where we used to park
    That ol’ drive-in’s a new Wal-Mart
    The café is closed where our names were carved on that corner booth
    Everything’s changed except for the way I feel about you”

    Drive-ins were great except for the swarming mosquitoes and the intolerable summer heat and humidity. In the end, most people opted for air conditioned, bug free indoor theaters. Likewise on MoPac, I suspect most people will ultimately be pleased with the transformation. Best of all, they’ll be able to torture their children by saying “I can remember when MoPac was….”

  • Breaker One-Nine, This Here’s the MoPac Man

    February 13, 2014| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

    Since I was a little kid I’ve always loved songs about highways. One of my early favorites was Convoy.  It was one of the first 45 rpm singles I bought. The other was Rhinestone Cowboy.  Hey, I was only seven. My mom used to censor my music.  Fortunately I think she was only looking for bad words so I still managed to get songs like Undercover Angel and Afternoon Delight. Those 70’s artists were so devious.

    Speed Limit

    Work zone speed limit sign along MoPac

    Convoy of course had speeding truckers taking on the police, otherwise known as “Bears” and “Smokies”. These truckers were barreling down the highway with complete disregard for public safety and authority. Back then the national speed limit was 55 mph and Congress threatened to withdraw your federal highway funding if you didn’t enforce it. My, how times have changed, especially here in Texas where we can now drive as fast as 85 mph on some highways!

    As many of you already know, the speed limit has been lowered to 55 mph along MoPac and I’ve heard from a few people who aren’t happy about it. But, if you’ve lived in other parts of the country you know that lowering the speed limit to 55 mph in a construction zone is actually quite generous. In fact one of our local news reporters who used to live in Ohio pointed out to me that construction zones on interstates up there are generally 45 mph. I can confirm that as I spent a lot of time driving through 45 mph construction zones while taking my son to college in New York last fall.

    Anyway, since my last blog the Smokies have been “as thick as bugs on a bumper and they even had a Bear in the air” on MoPac. And I’ve been hearing from folks who’ve been getting tickets for speeding in the construction zone. I was hoping I could help them out by mentioning the option to take a driver safety course. But it turns out if you are caught speeding in a construction zone when workers are present you aren’t eligible.  By the way, the 55 mph speed limit does apply 24/7 and it’s also double the fine if workers are present. So you’ve been warned.

    Another great song lyric that comes to mind these days is “Thank God for the man who put the white lines on the highway.” It’s from a song released in 1980 by the Cleveland based Michael Stanley Band called Lover. It’s a great song with the late Clarence Clemmons playing sax. I bring it up because we have been putting down temporary striping on MoPac in recent weeks. Part of my job is to field complaints, so naturally I’ve had a few about the striping.

    Construction along MoPac

    Construction along MoPac

    The truth is it’s nearly impossible to remove old striping and cover it up completely without resurfacing the entire highway.  We’ll be doing that toward the end of the project.  In the meantime we’ve added reflective pavement markers between each stripe and it appears most drivers are adjusting to the new configuration. Just remember it will all change again a number of times before the project is completed.

    Now, like everything in life there are always a wide range of perspectives on issues such as construction speed zones and highway striping. One of the best calls I had this month was from a gentleman who questioned why the speed limit needed to be 55 mph all the time. I mentioned the importance of driver safety given the temporary striping, barrier walls and changing conditions. He responded that the striping looked great!  Go figure?

    So with that in mind keep the bugs off your glass and the bears off your… tail. We’ll catch you on the flip-flop. This here’s the MoPac Man on the side. We gone. Bye, bye.

  • Moms and Dads at Work, Please Slow Down

    January 10, 2014| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

    Since the holidays are over and my last blog was a little on the humorous side I thought this would be a good time to discuss a more serious issue: work zone safety. I have worked in the toll road industry for almost 20 years now. Mostly it’s been a fun and gratifying experience. But every now and then I hate my job. Like back in 2003 when the organization I worked for was in the process of reconstructing one of our toll plazas in Orlando, Florida.

    GradyHill

    Grady Hill

    The contractor on the project was doing a great job and was actually ahead of schedule. In fact, the new lanes were already open and the contractor was on the verge of closing out the job, when tragedy struck. A highway crew was installing reflective pavement markers as part of a night time operation when a drunk driver barreled into the work zone at more than 85 mph.  The result was catastrophic. 38-year old traffic maintenance supervisor Grady Hill was killed and two other workers seriously injured. Hill left behind a wife and several children. (More information >>)

    That leads me to the MoPac Improvement Project. We are now closing lanes nightly, lanes are being realigned, construction barriers are going up, and an increasing number of construction vehicles and workers are in the field. The speed limit is now reduced to 55 mph southbound between US 183 and RM 2222 and as work expands to other sections of the project the speed limit will be reduced in those areas too.  I should also remind everyone that speeding fines are doubled when workers are present and you are supposed to reduce your speed by 20 mph when driving in a lane adjacent to a stopped emergency vehicle, TxDOT vehicle, or tow truck.

    Memorial_1

    Grady Hill Memorial

    I know construction zone speed limit reductions can seem like an inconvenience, but they are there for a reason. The unfortunate fact is that nationally more than 700 people are killed in work zones each year.  In 2012 there were more than 16,000 accidents and 137 deaths in Texas work zones.  And, the majority of those deaths involved drivers and/or vehicle occupants, not highway workers. So for your own safety as well as the people I work with, please slow down and keep an eye out for the changing conditions. I want all of us to be able to enjoy the benefits of the project when it is completed in 2015.

     

     

     

     

  • Anybody Got a Phone Booth I Can Borrow?

    December 06, 2013| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | No Comments

    How do I make a blog about road construction entertaining? That is the great dilemma. Well when you’re MoPac Man, still trying to work out what exactly your super powers are, balancing being MoPac Man with regular life has proven to be quite entertaining, at least to my family and friends.

    First, did you happen to see my prominent appearance in a full page ad in the October 27th edition of the Austin-American Statesman? Well apparently some kid in my neighborhood did. On Halloween he came by the house, saw my MoPac truck and yelled with much excitement, “Hey it’s MoPac Man!” Fortunately I was out of town at the time the ad came out, so I didn’t get too much ribbing at church that Sunday morning.
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    The ribbing does however continue here at the office. I’ve been promised a cape and bright yellow super hero tights for Christmas. What a horrific image that creates in my mind! They can get the tights if they want, but it will take an awfully big charity fundraiser to get this big boy to put them on. By the way, when I speak to the occasionally hostile crowd (there’s only been one so far), I like to remind them that my construction vest is not bullet proof. In fact, just the opposite, it’s so bright it makes me an easy target.

    Just this week, we mailed thousands of postcards with a magnet attached that included our 24 hour project hotline number. Almost immediately the calls started coming in at some of the most inopportune times over Thanksgiving weekend; like right when Alabama was kicking that game losing field goal. Just kidding, actually the calls came in as I was surrounded by thousands of loud fans at a high school football game, and at a very loud restaurant following the game. Still, I was excited to be hearing from the community and happy to be answering everyone’s questions about the project. The best part was when people would call and say, “Wow, I didn’t think I’d get to speak directly to MoPac Man.”

    The postcard also generated some entertaining emails. My favorite read:
    “I just wanted to say “great job” on the postcard I received today promoting Steve Pustelnyk as a primary contact on the Mopac project. This was really well done and an excellent idea. It is refreshing to see these types of forward thinking, proactive initiatives from the government.”

    Just as I was gloating a bit, this one came in:

    “Why on earth would you send out that EXPENSIVE (and useless) advertisement I received today??? Was it really necessary to have the coated cardstock? The fake “credit” card that is an exact reproduction of exactly what is under it when you peel it off the fancy paper?”

    So as I face the daily fun of dealing with divergent public opinion on everything from sound walls to postcards, let me remind everyone that construction is getting into high gear this month. With the holidays approaching, please be careful as you drive the corridor, so that we all can enjoy a wonderful and joyous season with our families and friends. By the way, where does Superman change into his tights these days?

  • The Calm Before the Storm

    October 18, 2013| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

    When it comes to the MoPac Improvement Project, I feel like we are experiencing the calm before the storm. There’s been some activity in the form of survey crews, drilling rigs and nighttime lane closures. There have been a few news articles and neighborhood events, but it’s still sunny and everything feels normal. Yet, behind the scenes dozens of people are hard at work gearing up for construction to begin and when it does life along MoPac is going to change. Ultimately we’ll have new Express Lanes and greater mobility on MoPac, plus less roadway noise thanks to sound walls. But, in the meantime construction looms.

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    Drilling rig prepares to break ground for the MoPac Improvement Project.

    The biggest hint that something is brewing came this week when we held a ceremonial groundbreaking. Soon signs will be going up in the corridor notifying drivers about the project, and neighborhood residents will be getting MoPac Man postcards in the mail with a magnet to help remind them how to get in touch with us if they need to. A high-profile newspaper advertisement is also coming in the next few days. The goal is to make sure as many people as possible know what to expect before the first bulldozer rolls into the corridor.

    Right now the next big event on our agenda will be a “Meet the Contractor Open House” on November 12 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at O. Henry Middle School. Our expert construction team will be on hand that night with a lot of displays; ready to answer questions about how the project may impact nearby homeowners, businesses and drivers who travel the corridor.

    If you can’t make the Open House, we always welcome visitors to our project office at 1901 West Braker Lane, Building D, Suite 200. We are just east of Metric Drive and across from the Post Office. Plus, we now have a project hotline at 512-270-5000. Call us anytime day or night and someone will be there to take your call. If it’s an emergency we’ll respond immediately. If it’s a simple question and it’s the middle of the night, we’ll get back to you the next morning.

    We also have our web site, smart phone application, MoPac Radio at 800 am, a Twitter feed, email alerts, text alerts and Facebook page, all designed to keep you up to date on the project.  This is important because as I said at the outset, a storm is brewing. By November we will see an increasing number of people working in the corridor and by the second week of December full-blown construction will be underway between RM 2222 and US 183. That means drivers will soon be experiencing lane changes, construction barriers and night-time lane closures. Through it all we’ll be doing everything we can to keep traffic moving as smoothly as possible.

    Nearby residents may experience nighttime construction work including bright lights and increased noise. We’ll try to minimize the impacts, but I don’t want to sugarcoat things. At times during the project things could get unpleasant.  That’s why I’ve saved up a lot of vacation time.  Just kidding! I’ll be there throughout trying to do what I can to ease the pain and expedite the project. The storm is scheduled to pass in less than two years, which on geologic highway construction time is just the blink of an eye. So I beg you to keep that in mind as we embark on this incredible journey together. And remember, A Better MoPac is just around the corner!

  • MoPac Man Blog

    June 26, 2013| By MoPac Man | in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

    This is Steve Pustelnyk, or MoPac Man.  For the next two and a half years I’ll be immersed in construction of the MoPac Project. Around the clock I’ll be monitoring the project, providing important updates, interacting with the community and working on behalf of neighbors and drivers to make the project as painless as possible. But that won’t be easy.  We are going to be working a lot at night and that could mean some sleepless nights. And, while we are not supposed to close any lanes between 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., we all know that traveling the corridor won’t be as smooth as usual. Plus, there could be some rare situations where something goes wrong with construction and lanes have to be closed when they shouldn’t be. Maybe I should just apologize profusely now.

    On the bright side, in just a few years many residents will be enjoying a little less noise thanks to the 7 miles of sound walls that will be constructed. Cyclists and pedestrians will have better facilities and best of all those of you who use MoPac will have a better ride. The new Express Lanes will increase the capacity of MoPac and give bus riders, van poolers and individual drivers a way to bypass congestion and get to their destination without delay.  In the short term the Express Lane will also reduce congestion in the existing lanes improving mobility for everyone who drives the corridor.

    Throughout the project I’ll be sharing my thoughts and experiences here on the MoPac Man blog. I look forward to hearing from you here on the blog, via twitter, on our Facebook page or through one of our more traditional communication channels such as the 24 hour hotline.  Our team is here to serve you.