With toll revenue still minimal on the section of the MoPac Boulevard express lane project that opened in October, and the opening date for the rest still uncertain, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is digging into its savings to make the initial $2 million payment on $230 million it owes.
The authority in January also used $1.7 million of its general fund to pay back part of a $5.3 million loan from a bank, money it borrowed to do initial design work on the 11-mile toll lane project from Lady Bird Lake to Parmer Lane.
Mobility authority officials say these early cash flow problems on the project will dissipate after the opening of the southbound toll lane and the rest of the northbound toll lane, from West Cesar Chavez Street to Far West Boulevard. It appears that June 15, the latest in a series of target end dates for a project that is now 18 months overdue, likewise will pass with construction still going.
“We still think we’re in the summertime ballpark,” mobility authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein told his governing board Wednesday. “We don’t think there’s any slippage past that point.”
As officials said earlier this year, the remainder of the northbound lane likely will open first, followed about two weeks later by the entire southbound toll lane. Both will have toll rates that fluctuate as often as every five minutes, based on the level of traffic on the road, with no maximum amount.
Those tolls should bring in $6.9 million in the first year, according to a 2011 traffic and revenue study of the MoPac toll lanes done by Wilbur Smith Associates, and almost $48 million over the first five years. The authority expects that as that money rolls in, it can reimburse its $60 million reserve account for money it is using to make loan payments now.
The money coming in so far from the northbound toll lane, which opened from Far West to near Parmer five months ago, is minimal, about $20,000 a month, Chief Financial Officer Bill Chapman said Wednesday. The traffic in the free lanes of that section of MoPac flows freely much of the time, even at rush hour, giving drivers scant incentive to take the toll lane there. That in turn has kept the toll rate close to its 25 cent minimum, at most about 50 cents, Chapman said.
The $2 million payment to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization due in September is the first of 22 escalating payments that the authority will provide under a 2012 agreement. The CAMPO board allocated $130 million, promised to it by Texas Department of Transportation for Central Texas projects, to the MoPac toll project. The mobility authority will use toll revenue to pay that back, with an additional $100 million, by 2041.
The yearly payment will rise to $5 million by 2021, $10 million by 2024 and top out at $16 million in the deal’s final year. The CAMPO board will be able to allocate that money to any local transportation project it wants to, including mobility authority projects.
Mobility authority officials said Wednesday that in the next few weeks the fourth, “auxiliary” lane northbound will reopen between West 35th and West 45th streets, along with a second lane on the northbound exit to RM 2222 and Northland Drive.
Take a video tour of the new underpasses and the rest of the MoPac construction site, with this story on mystatesman.com.