It’s 2011, and Austin is verifiably too big for its britches. Speed traps left and right, rush hour a certifiable nightmare, an exhausted water system and this strange quasi-train situation that seems to sputter back and forth between downtown and the suburbs carrying 4 people a day for no particular reason.
I live nearest to MOPAC, and so this is the road that is the most intimate source of my frustration (and convenience, too). As it is, MOPAC can frustrate, yes, but it never does get quite the bad rap that I-35 does for the egregious bottlenecking and ridiculous wait times. But Austin hasn’t always been plagued with these traffic problems.
A 1970′s alternative Austin Newspaper called The Austin Sun claimed that the future of Austin would very likely be tied to the success of MOPAC. A city’s quality of life, the paper noted, was greatly impacted by its quality of transportation, according to federal studies. Living right next to it, I think I have probably used MoPac every single day since we’ve moved here.
Quality of life?
Well, if I based it off MOPAC, I guess somedays Austin is a world class city, and other days (particularly the rainy ones or ones when I’m driving at rush hour) I might be living in Tunisia.
Interestingly, the Austin Sun reported in 1974 that members of the Austin Transportation Study, the organization tasked with planing Austin’s 20 year transit forecast, complained that “the whole transit study is a fraud,” a creation of the Texas Highway Department to further its goals: “While supposedly an objective study, the real purpose of ATS, some opponents argue, is to perpetuate the kind of outmoded freeway planning that has ruined cities all over America.“
The article also notes that a transit expert named Lyndon Henry was afraid that the ATS “assumed cars would be the dominant form on transportation in 1995.” The construction of MOPAC, he argued, would actually lead to “more low-density urban sprawl while the central city decays.” The true solution: Build a light rail.
These words, almost forty-years old, might as well have come from an article in the Austin Chronicle today regarding the current state of Austin public transportation.
To see just how little the discussion has changed, check out the Austin Sun article on “The Monster That Ate Austin,” (courtesy of the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture), or if you want to keep it light, here are some other interesting tid-bits:
Fun Facts About MOPAC
- MoPac owes its namesake to the Missouri-Pacific railroad, which is the railroad it was built alongside.
- Concepts for such a road in Austin were being developed as early as the 1920s, were put into action in the 1940s, and began serious construction in the 1960s.
- Unlike I-35′s relatively quick turn around time, major expansion and construction on MoPac was not considered complete for over 30 years.
- And unlike a majority of construction projects on the entire planet earth, MOPAC has a long, mostly successful history. According to analysis by the city government, projects related to MOPAC have frequently cost less and finished earlier than initial projections.
Did the construction of MOPAC further increase our reliance on automobiles?
What would the city be like if we had built a light rail 35 years ago?
Will Austin always be cursed with transportation woes?
I leave you with these cool photos of MOPAC’s construction:
Photos Credit: TexasFreeway.com