The MoPac express lanes opened in 2017, years behind schedule, to offer a faster option for drivers willing to pay a toll. But what if you pay and the lane is no faster – or even slower – than the main lanes?
The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority says the aim is to keep vehicles moving in the lanes at a minimum speed of 45 miles per hour. CTRMA does that by raising the toll to discourage people from using the lanes: The higher the price, the fewer people enter the lanes, which ultimately is supposed to result in faster traffic.
But Jim Sharp, a local courier, noticed that sometimes the lane is slow or even stopped. So he asked about it for our ATXplained project, where we answer questions people submit online.
“My question is, if the express lane is not moving at 45 miles an hour, which is what you’re paying for, is there an opportunity for a reduced price or a refund altogether?” he asked.
The short answer is no, unless there’s a vehicle stopped and blocking the lane.
“We can’t always guarantee 45 miles per hour,” said Steve Pustelnyk, director of community relations with the CTRMA. “We do provide refunds if the incident is caused by an accident or a vehicle that is broken down.”
“If the lane is simply moving slow because people are moving slow, someone’s going below the speed limit or we’re having issues with people braking for no reason," he said, "then we do not guarantee 45 miles per hour, but that is our goal with the pricing, to maintain that 45 mile an hour or more speed if we can."
It doesn’t happen very often given how busy MoPac is, he said, but it does happen a few times a week at different hours of the day.
“So your chances of ending up in this situation are relatively small,” he said.
Sharp was not surprised by his answer.
“Once they got their hands in our pocket, they don’t like to let go,” he said. “I think for the most part, it seems fair, especially if they don’t charge for breakdowns or when the lane is actually blocked and not moving at all. That seems reasonable. Otherwise, it’s just a crapshoot.”