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San Antonio Area Roads & Freeways
Frequently Asked Questions

This page last updated November 30, 2010

Below are some of the most common questions or complaints about San Antonio freeways that I hear.  These questions are organized under a few general topics and my answer to each can be read by clicking the small arrow icon next to each question.

    What's the point of TransGuide?  All it ever tells me about is congestion that I see
       everyday and already know about.

Yes, it's true that many TransGuide messages are about areas of chronic or recurring congestion that are familiar and well-known to commuters along those routes.  However, these congestion reports are useful to people who are not familiar with that road (e.g. truckers and tourists passing through, local residents who don't usually travel that route, etc.) and are also useful as reminders to regulars to be cautious as they approach the congestion.  Studies have shown that these warnings improve the traffic flow and safety in the areas where they are used.  TransGuide's original intent, and the area where it really provides benefits, is reporting on incidents that cause unusual or severe congestion, and providing those reports in a timely manner to allow motorists to take alternate routes.  Also, TransGuide can often detect such incidents before they are even reported by phone and, even when an accident is reported by phone, TransGuide is useful in determining the precise location of the incident as telephoned reports are often vague or inaccurate in this regard.  Furthermore, TransGuide's operators can determine the full extent of the incident to ensure that the proper assistance is dispatched immediately.  These factors combine to mean that TransGuide saves lives and helps clear incidents faster.   If you want some hard stats about TransGuide's benefits, see my TransGuide page.

    What's the point of the travel times on TransGuide signs? I know how long it takes
       to get where I'm going.

The travel times shown on TransGuide signs are computed every minute based on real-time traffic conditions.  While the times they show during periods without congestion may seem pointless to those who travel the road often, they do serve the purpose of providing regular travelers of the road with a "baseline" travel time for a route.  Then, when the road is congested and travel times increase correspondingly, travelers familiar with the "baseline" travel times can judge the severity of the downstream congestion and determine whether or not to use an alternate route.

    I still think TransGuide is a waste of money.  Why don't they use the money spent
       on TransGuide building new highway lanes?

Funding for TransGuide comes from funding allotments reserved only for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).  As a result, the money that's used for TransGuide cannot be used for anything other than ITS projects.  If TransGuide didn't get that money, some other city's traffic management system would.   Besides, there comes a point when you can't build your way out of congestion any longer.  Instead, you have to manage what you have.  That's the function of TransGuide.

    What do those green arrows and red X's on TransGuide signs mean?
The answers are on the TransGuide page.  Obeying these signs (technically, they're called Lane Control Signals or Lane Use Signals) is important.  Failure to do so causes increased congestion at best and additional accidents at worst.  Also, state law requires motorists to obey them.  The good news is that a recent study showed about an 85% compliance rate.

US 281 Interchanges (or lack thereof)
    Why was there no interchange at Loop 410 near the airport?
    OK, why is there no directional interchange at 281 and 1604?
First off, a fully-directional interchange is quite expensive.  For example, the 410/281 interchange near the airport cost in the neighborhood of $150 million.  Back when the current 281/1604 interchange was constructed in the late '80s, that was about the total amount of funding San Antonio received annually for all new highway construction.  In other words, to have built a full interchange there back then would have used all of San Antonio's state highway funding for a year.  Given the traffic volumes at that intersection at that time and the other more urgent needs in the city (including the downtown double-decking project going on at that time), TxDOT simply didn't have the money to build that kind of interchange at that time, and ongoing funding issues since then have prevented one from subsequently being built.  Furthermore, traffic volumes at that time and those expected in the short-term were sufficiently low enough to be adequately served by the three-level interchange.  Still, TxDOT's planners admit they underestimated traffic growth in that area by more than a decade.  Predicting the future is always tricky, and this is an object lesson in that reality.  The first problem was that there were a lot of people who, because of existing congestion, used alternate routes.  So the improved 281 and 1604 in that area released an unusually large pent-up or "latent demand", the result being that a lot more cars appeared than anyone had expected based on traffic counts and surveys from before the work.  Additionally, that part of San Antonio grew substantially faster during the '90s and early 2000s than historic averages predicted.  Both of these factors caused planners to miss the mark on how long the smaller interchange would suffice at that location.  However, relief is on the way-- the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority received funding in late 2009 to build the first four ramps of a directional interchange there.  The remaining four ramps will likely be built as part of whatever improvements are made to US 281 north of 1604.

    Why, then, didn't they at least reserve enough land for a cloverleaf there?  All of the
       corners of that intersection are now developed.

Actually, they won't build a cloverleaf.  Cloverleafs are rarely used anymore because they are not very efficient, especially in high-volume areas (for proof of this, look to the west at I-10 and Loop 1604).  The type of interchange that will be built will be a "directional" interchange, also known as a "stack", similar to those recently built at 10/410 and 281/410.  Believe it or not, because stack interchanges are built up instead of out, there is sufficient room to build such an interchange without having to take anything but some small parcels of land around the edges.

Loop 1604
    Is it "Loop" 1604 or "FM" 1604?
It is Loop 1604.  A Loop designation is equivalent to a State Highway, which makes it eligible for federal funding.  The FM system is funded entirely by the state.  There is actually an FM 1604 in the town of Irene in North Texas.

    Why is Loop 1604 the only four-digit route in Texas that's not an FM?
As the loop was being built, the state used the number of one of the existing roadways that became part of the loop: FM 1604.  Once the loop was completed in 1977 and the designation was ready to be changed to "Loop", the route number 1604 had become well-known among locals, so it was retained and the designation simply changed from FM to Loop.  It is an exception to Texas' numbering rules. 

    What was the first freeway built in San Antonio?
The section of US 87 (now part of the lower level of I-10) between Woodlawn and Culebra.  It opened in July 1949.  (See my San Antonio Freeways History page for a complete history of the freeway system.)

    Why is (fill-in road name here) always under construction?
It may seem that way, but projects are actually completed as quickly as they can be.  Building a road or interchange is a lot of work, starting with quite a bit of underground work you don't actually see: utility adjustments, drainage work, and deep bore foundations for bridge piers.  Then, workers have to build the new roadways while still maintaining reasonable traffic flow.  Here's an analogy: imagine trying to re-carpet a room with the furniture still in it!  Another reason it may seem like there's always construction is that big projects are frequently broken-up into smaller projects and phases due to funding or technical constraints, so part of a project may be completed, then work shifts to an adjacent section.  If you don't pay attention, it may seem like a certain road is "always under construction", but in reality, things are moving along.  (See also "Why is there no work being done?")

    What's the deal with SH 211? It's a road to nowhere and a waste of money.
SH 211 was originally built to provide access to the Texas Research Park.  Because of its location, TxDOT planners knew that it would make an ideal location for a far west Bexar County beltline, an idea that had been around for decades.  Like many projects, construction on SH 211 was split into several segments due to funding constraints.  Unfortunately, due to other priorities, the missing middle segment has languished unfunded for years.  However, in late 2009, Bexar County agreed to build the missing segment and get reimbursed by the state over several years.  Work should start in 2011.  See the SH 211 page for additional information.

    Why doesn't TxDOT upgrade Bandera Rd. through Leon Valley?
Since the late '80s, TxDOT has proposed various upgrades to Bandera in that area, including adding flyovers at major intersections, but the City of Leon Valley vetoed all of the plans on the belief that such upgrades would hurt local businesses (a serious fallacy in my opinion.)  Fortunately, fresh leadership in recent years has resulted in a change to Leon Valley's official position, although the City Council passed a resolution recently against a proposed elevated tollway along Bandera and the MPO subsequently dropped the toll plans from their long-term plan.  However, an environmental study is ongoing to determine the best solution for the roadway.  That study is expected to be completed in 2012.

    Why aren't traffic signals in San Antonio synchronized?
Actually, most of them are.  About 75% of traffic signals in the City of San Antonio are part of an interconnected progression system.  There are still some kinks in the system, namely that frontage road signals are not connected to the system and that the interconnects along arterials presently are not networked into a city-wide system, but overall, if you travel the speed limit on major thoroughfares, you should hit mostly (if not all) green lights.  In 2007, the city announced that they would be spending $33 million through 2011 to upgrade the system.

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