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Use of MoPac toll lane, as expected, light in first few days

The variable tolls on North MoPac officially have begun to vary.

At about 4:40 p.m., as northbound traffic on the free lanes of MoPac’s north half began to pick up, first one or two and then several motorists made the decision to take the paid route. Officials with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, and reporters invited to a control center to see how things went during the first afternoon rush hour with the new lane, could see those drivers veer left into the lane just south of Far West Boulevard.

The volume of cars in the toll lane abruptly swung up to about 750 cars an hour, signaling a computer algorithm and its human overseers that the time had come to hike the price by a few pennies. Until Monday afternoon, through more than 50 hours of operation, the toll lane charge had remained at the minimum 25 cents.

There is no maximum.

That uptick, triggered by rush hour, pushed use of the lane well above the level over the weekend. The toll lane, which opened just before 9 a.m. Saturday, had 901 users that day and 807 on Saturday.

This first lane runs 5.8 miles from that Far West entrance to just south of Parmer Lane, but more mileage will follow in the first half of next year. Mobility authority officials have said they’re hoping to have the complete project — a toll lane on each side of North MoPac from West Cesar Chavez Street to Parmer — open by sometime in the spring. The numbers, especially the toll rate, likely will be much larger then.

For now, with the open toll lane running through the least congested section of North MoPac, mobility authority officials are downplaying what they’ll see in terms of drivers on the lane and resulting revenue. But the sense of relief to simply have part of the lane open, after 34 months of construction and ongoing strife with contractor CH2M, was palpable Monday at the authority’s headquarters on Interstate 35 near East 32nd Street.

“Much happier,” said Jeff Dailey, the authority’s deputy executive director. “Drivers will probably see benefits going northbound in the free lanes at about 35th (Street). But it’ll take a few weeks for it to settle in.”

That peak toll price of 39 cents, by the way, lasted less than a half hour. About 5:05 p.m., officials said, the rate fell to 36 cents.

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