Herman: Something screwed on was screwed up on the MoPac project

It is with excitement and the promise of better commutes to come that I note Saturday’s scheduled opening of the second and final section of the northbound toll lane on MoPac Boulevard. The southbound lanes also should open during your lifetime, depending on how your most recent annual physical went.

As a regular user of MoPac, I’ve been vexed by the oft-delayed, oft-cursed construction project but buoyed by the hope that it actually could make my commute easier, either through my willingness to pay the express-lane toll or as a beneficiary of others who pay to use it and free up space in the free lanes.

Some of you might recall that Statesman colleague Ben Wear and I engineered it (and he’s an actual former petroleum engineer) so we could be the first paying customers on the northern section of the northbound toll lane when it opened a year ago. He drove and paid the quarter toll (in cash), and I videoed the momentous journey.

So, as part two of the project opens, mark me down as an optimistic commuter eager to find out all this construction mess will prove to have been worth it.

I do, however, have one small complaint, one I brought to the attention of Mike Heiligenstein this week. I decided this was his problem because he is executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, the overseer of the MoPac Improvement Project. It’s my understanding he’s fielded a complaint or two or 300,000 as this project dragged on.

In this case, he proved to be a man of action. Here’s what I told him this week via email:

“Because I know you have nothing more pressing on your plate these days, I thought I’d bring to your attention this apparent error in overpass signage. I think the street is Hancock Drive, not Hancock Road. Any idea how this happened? And it looks like it easily can be remedied by removal of a few screws. Any plans to change it?”

I attached a photo of the new signage on the overpass that passes over MoPac at Hancock Drive. The letters say “HANCOCK RD” on the sign.

HANCOCK RD is wrong. HANCOCK DR would be right. If we (and by “we” I mean somebody long ago) had wanted to name it Hancock Road, we would have named it Hancock Road. But we didn’t. We named it Hancock Drive, and for a good reason. I don’t know that reason, but I’m going to assume it was a good one and not a bad one that somehow put some under-the-table money in some city official’s pocket.

My timing was fortuitous. I apparently caught Heiligenstein when he had successfully dealt with all other MoPac-related complaints so he was able to jump right on this one.

“I was just on the road and missed this one,” he told me by email about the sign error. “Not to disparage vision handicaps, but whoever put this up must have been dyslexic. … Will be fixed this week. You’re right, a few screws.”

There’s much to like about a public official who acknowledges an error and quickly enacts a corrective action plan. In this case, there’s so much to like that we’ll forgo a discussion of whether dyslexia is a vision handicap. And I’ll take the blame for calling them screws. Upon further review it looks as if they’re bolts, five in each letter.

As of 8 a.m. Friday, the correction had not been made. But let’s remember that time is different in MoPacLand, a mystical place where a week can be sort of like a biblical week, as in perhaps more of a concept than seven actual 24-hour periods.

“Soon,” Heiligenstein had told me Thursday afternoon about the sign fix, adding that he is “kinda caught up with” Saturday’s toll lane opening, which I hope will be grand, maybe with balloons.

Soon proved to be correct, partially. Shortly after 4 p.m. Friday he emailed a photo showing the correction had been made, but only on the northbound side. The southbound fix is set for Saturday morning.

And by way of explanation, the ellipsis in Heiligenstein’s quote replaces a humorous notion he offered about how another possible error involving the word Hancock would have been even more embarrassing than the miscue that was made.

So having done my minor piece toward making sure this overdue project comes out right, I look forward to trying out the toll lane.

I still, however, harbor a longstanding larger complaint about MoPac Boulevard. Dictionary.com tells us a boulevard is “a broad avenue in a city, usually having areas at the sides or center for trees, grass, or flowers.” MoPac Boulevard is in a city. But it is not a broad avenue. So it is something other than a boulevard.

Even when portions of it used to have areas in the center for trees, grass or flowers (most of which disappeared, thanks to the toll lane project), it was not a boulevard. It’s an expressway, and I’m pretty sure there’s a sign or two around town that say MoPac Expressway, even though the actual name is MoPac Boulevard (or Loop 1, but let’s not get into the unlooped nature of Loop 1).

Similarly, Lamar Boulevard is not a boulevard, and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is not a boulevard. Portions of Far West Boulevard are kind of a boulevard, maybe. Ben White Boulevard and Research Boulevard used to kind of be boulevards until elevated expressways were built down the middle of them, hence putting in doubt their boulevardom.

I’m arbitrarily going to decree that Ed Bluestein Boulevard is a boulevard. Or at least it will be until they complete building a tollway down the middle of it. Boulevards don’t have toll lanes.

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