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Rainy forecast moves up MoPac closures and paving work

The lane closures on MoPac Boulevard are coming sooner in the week — but starting later in the day — than officials originally planned.

With storms predicted to arrive Friday and linger until Monday, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority decided Tuesday to move up pavement work on a stretch of northbound MoPac that had been set to shut down lanes on the road through the weekend, including during the day.

After an overnight closure Tuesday night through dawn Wednesday, northbound MoPac’s main lanes just south of Enfield Road were set to reopen for daytime traffic Wednesday. They will be closed again from 8 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday nights as well, with all traffic diverted to the frontage road and through the Enfield traffic light. Drivers will be spared any daylight closures.

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Drivers coming from south of the river on MoPac will have to exit at Enfield Road and take a short detour that brings them back onto MoPac at the on-ramp from Enfield. Drivers approaching the highway from West Cesar Chavez Street and West Sixth Street will take the same detour, said officials with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which is overseeing the toll road construction that is behind the temporary closures.

City of Austin traffic officials will be monitoring that Enfield Road traffic signal, officials said, to increase green-light time northbound during the overnight closures in response to delays on the frontage road. And an Austin police officer will also be on hand to intervene if needed.

This change means that the lane closures originally planned for the coming weekend — during both the day and night, which likely would have caused long delays for northbound traffic — won’t be happening. The work taking place Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights — repaving and striping of a section of MoPac and restoration of that section to three highway lanes — was supposed to happen over the weekend.

“What we’re trying to do is beat the rain,” said Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the mobility authority. Highway paving typically requires dry conditions and temperatures of at least 50 degrees.

HOW WE GOT HERE: Check out our timeline on the MoPac toll lanes project

A few hundred yards of the northbound lanes, essentially between West Sixth and West Eighth streets, has been reduced to two lanes since April to let crews build a short tunnel under MoPac that will allow motorists from West Cesar Chavez to enter a fourth, tolled lane set to open in the spring. Even after the work this week, the road there will still have just two lanes for a few more days.

After the spate of rain, crews likely will close the road again for a night or two (probably as early as the night of Dec. 6) to paint striping on MoPac’s main lanes. At that point, that section will once again have three lanes.

The high-profile project, which began construction in January 2014, will add a toll lane to each side of North MoPac from West Cesar Chavez Street to Parmer Lane, a distance of about 11 miles. The project, originally projected to be completed in September 2015, has been plagued by delays and infighting between the mobility authority and its primary contractor on the job, Denver-based CH2M.

A major factor in that delay has been an early decision, suggested by CH2M and accepted by the mobility authority, to connect the toll lanes to West Cesar Chavez with tunnels under MoPac rather than flyover bridges.

A section of the northbound toll lane, from near Far West Boulevard to Parmer, opened Oct. 15. Based on mobility authority data, that toll lane has improved travel times in that northerly section of the highway on the adjacent free lanes. The current estimate is that the $200 million project and both toll lanes should be complete by late spring.

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