Antonio Area Freeway System
November 27, 2012
Over the past
decade, San Antonio has boomed and traffic volumes have increased
substantially. At the same time, funding to build new roads has
not been able to keep pace with growth, mostly due to the effect of
inflation and dramatic increases in construction costs on state's
static fuel tax, which has not been adjusted since 1991.
Additionally, improved fuel mileage, which means less taxes paid
per mile driven, and diversions from the state's Highway Fund to pay
for public education and other non-transportation expenses, have
substantially reduced the amount of funding available for new highway
construction. Furthermore, Texas continues to be shortchanged by
the federal government,
only about 9 cents back of every dime of the federal fuel tax
revenues it collects, and in 2008 and 2009 the federal government twice
rescinded previously allocated funding due to shortfalls in collections
due to the Congessional failure to adjust their own static gas
tax. San Antonio had fared even worse, having gotten back only
about 75% of its contributions during the '90s and early 2000s,
recent changes to funding formulas have improved that ratio
substantially. Still, a substantial backlog of needed projects
remains from all those years of being shortchanged, population and
traffic growth continues unabated across the state adding additional
pressures on an already lagging system, and the funding issues still
have not been resolved by the Legislature.
help expedite the construction of needed roadways, the state encouraged
regional authorities to find local funding mechanisms. To that
end, Bexar County leaders in 2003 created the Alamo Regional Mobility
Authority (ARMA) to take a local leadership role in finding funding
solutions for the San Antonio area. Because there are few local
funding options available, the primary focus has been on using tolls as
the backing for bonds that would fund major projects. Using this
financing method typically would allow many major projects to be built
as many as 25 years ahead of tax-funded estimated schedules and ergo
substantially cheaper. (To their credit, ARMA has done a good job
of identifying and using other funding sources for several projects,
most notably the US 281/Loop 1604 interchange. This has allowed
that project to be built toll-free when it was originally planned to be
a toll project.)
On this page:
ARMA identified a number of feasible tollway projects in Bexar
County. An initial "Starter System" of about 20 miles was
originally identified with additional segments of Loop 1604
subsequently added. Several other future projects are currently
being investigated by TxDOT. The map below shows the proposed
tollway locations in San Antonio as of the end of 2009.
- US 281 North
from 1604 to the Comal County line
- Loop 1604
from Military Dr. to I-10 East and its interchanges with SH 151, I-10
West, US 281 North, I-35 North, and I-10 East
- I-35 from
Loop 410 South to the Comal County line
- SH 151 from
Loop 1604 to SH 211
- I-10 West
from Loop 1604 to Boerne
- I-10 East
from Loop 410 to SH 130 in Seguin
Parkway and its interchanges with I-35 South and Loop 410
(These sections are no longer being considered for tolling.)
- SH 16
(Bandera Rd.) from Loop 410 to Loop 1604
Parkway from Starcrest Dr. to Blanco Rd.
at Wurzbach Parkway and US 281
half of US 281/Loop 1604 interchange
Types of tollways
Many people don't
understand how a tollway functions or what it looks like. Some
folks simply think that it just means adding tolls to the existing
roadway. However, this is simply not accurate. In all
cases, toll road projects involve new lanes, and those lanes are always
some form of an expressway. Here are the different types of
tollways considered for Bexar County:
In this scenario, the mainlanes of the expressway, which
would be new, would be tolled, while the access roads would remain
toll-free. Tolled mainlanes for Wurzbach Parkway between
Blanco and Wetmore were studied but determined to be unfeasible.
Tolled expressway lanes for Bandera Rd. were removed from tollway plans
by the MPO board in October 2009. It is important to
understand that in every case where this type of tollway is being
developed, it is essentially the exact same proposal as a toll-free
version of the project would be. The only difference is that
drivers who opt to use the new expressway lanes would pay a toll.
This is a more "traditional" type of tollway; an example in Texas is
the Sam Houston Tollway (Beltway 8) in Houston or the new SH 130
tollway from Seguin to Georgetown.
Animation showing how
toll expressway lanes could be added to an existing divided roadway,
such as on US 281.
On roads that already have toll-free expressway lanes,
those existing lanes would remain toll-free, but new tolled express
lanes known as "managed lanes" would be built in the median between the
existing toll-free expressway lanes. The existing lanes would
likely have to be shifted outward a bit to provide sufficient room for
the new lanes. The new managed lanes would be separated from the
toll-free lanes by barriers with limited entry and exit points to the
toll-free lanes. It might be possible for the managed lanes to
also double as HOV and/or transit lanes, known as HOT (High
Occupancy/Toll) lanes. This type of tollway is currently proposed
northwestern Loop 1604 and is also being investigated for I-35 and
I-10. This type of facility recently opened on I-10 West
(Katy Freeway) in Houston.
Animation showing how tolled managed lanes could be added to a typical
section of Loop 1604.
rendering of tolled managed lanes along Loop 1604
(Courtesy: Alamo Regional Mobility Authority)
A tollway would be built elevated over the existing free
roadway. This type of tollway was proposed for Bandera Rd., but
studies showed that it would be unfeasible. This was also one of
the three options studied for US 281.
New direct-connect ramps between the tollway and an
intersecting roadway would tolled. Tolled interchanges are
currently proposed for Loop 1604 at SH 151, I-10 West, US 281
I-35 North and I-10 East, and at Kelly Parkway and I-35 South and Loop
410. A tolled interchange at US 281 and Wurzbach Parkway was
studied but determined to be unfeasible.
The map below
shows which type of tollway is proposed for each tollway segment.
& toll collection
In late 2007, the MPO approved proposed toll
rates of 17 cents per mile and 57 cents per tolled interchange ramp for
most passenger vehicles. Larger vehicles (such as 18-wheelers)
would pay 46 cents per mile and $1.15 per ramp. (These were the
planned 2009 rates and will almost certainly be reevaluated should any
toll projects come to fruition.) All tolls would be collected
electronically; there would be no tollbooths.
Motorists using the tollways would be required to have an electronic
transponder ("toll tag") and a corresponding account with TxTag, the
state's toll tag agency. These tags are mounted inside the
windshield of the vehicle and contain an identifier code.
Electronic tag readers would be located at strategic locations along
the toll system that would record the identifier codes of tags as they
pass by. The toll would then be charged to the account linked to
the tag where it would be deducted from a pre-paid balance in the
account. Vehicles using the toll system without toll tags would
be photographed and be billed by mail for the toll amount plus an
additional collection fee.
The toll tag
systems across the state are interconnected, so toll tags from any
Texas toll agency can be used on any tollway in the state.
status, and history
plan was that TxDOT would build the Starter System beginning in late
2005, then transfer operational responsibility to ARMA when completed
around 2009. But in May 2005, Cintra-Zachary, the private
consortium selected to build the first leg of the Trans-Texas Corridor,
made an unsolicited bid to build and operate the San Antonio tollway
starter system. After review, TxDOT decided that the proposal had
enough merit that it would seriously consider it, and in accordance
with state law, accepted other private bids to build and operate the
starter system. According to media reports, the private bid would
allow the project to be built faster and would allow TxDOT to
reallocate the $600 million that it would have used to build the
starter system to other projects. After a bit of rancorous debate
between TxDOT and ARMA, it was agreed that the private plans would be
evaluated with local input.
After word of the
toll projects became public, a substantial amount of grassroots
opposition, headed by the Texas Toll Party group that has also
vehemently opposed Austin area toll projects, started to form.
They showed en masse at an MPO meeting in mid 2005 and managed
to get the Loop 1604 West extension tabled, at least for the time
being. As you might imagine, these events added some uncertainty
to the entire project. However, TxDOT awarded the construction
contract for the US 281 North tollway (Sonterra to Stone Oak) in
September 2005 and preparation work for construction began in December
2005. The opponents filed a lawsuit shortly thereafter
challenging the project, arguing that it required a full (and costly)
environmental impact statement (EIS), instead of the numerous
environmental assessments (EA) that had been performed up to that
time. Federal law only requires an EIS to be performed if an EA
finds significant impacts, which the EAs for 281 did not.
However, TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), who were
both named in the suit, jointly agreed in January 2006 to suspend work
on the 281 tollway project as well as a planned 281/Borgfeld overpass
so that a comprehensive and definitive EA for the entire corridor could
be done and a subsequent determination made of whether a full impact
statement would need to be performed.
In early 2007,
the new EA for 281 was released. As with previous assessments, it
found no substantial issues, a so-called "Finding of No Significant
Impacts" (FONSI). The FHWA approved the EA on August 14th
2007. TxDOT announced plans to cancel the original overpass
project at Borgfeld as ARMA indicated it was considering building the
entire 281 tollway project from 1604 to Borgfeld as one project with
construction possibly beginning in 2008.
completed studies on the other possible toll projects on I-35 North,
Bandera Road, and Wurzbach Parkway. In early 2007, ARMA
determined that the Wurzbach Pkwy. proposal was not feasible for
tolling. The tolling option for the Bandera Rd. project was
dropped by the MPO board in October 2009.
in mid-2006 that it was considering possible toll lanes along I-10 West
from Loop 1604 to Boerne and I-10 East from Loop 410 to Seguin.
Those would be additional capacity lanes in the median; the existing
lanes would remain toll-free. Subsequent reports on the I-10
proposal limit the toll lanes from Loop 1604 to Leon Springs.
On June 11th,
2007, after a series of discussions with the Legislature, Governor
Perry signed compromise legislation that put a two-year moratorium on
the construction of privately financed toll roads. The bill
included a number of exceptions, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth and
Houston areas, but the 281 and 1604 toll projects in San Antonio were
not exempted. On June 15th, ARMA voted to assume control of those
projects with plans to fund the projects with bonds and begin
construction in mid 2008.
In late June
2007, TxDOT released the results of the EA for the Loop 1604 tollway
and expansion and showed plans for the proposed improvements.
That EA also had a FONSI outcome. However, with the threat of
legal challenges looming, ARMA decided to move forward with a full EIS
for Loop 1604. That study is expected to be complete in early
In December 2007,
the MPO approved the toll rates for the US 281 project. ARMA
announced that they would build the 281 project in two segments: Loop
1604 to Marshall Rd. and Marshall Rd. to the Comal county line.
Construction on the first segment, from Loop 1604 to Marshall, was
expected to start in mid 2008 with completion in late 2010. The
second segment was expected to be completed in 2012.
2008, toll opponents and environmentalists once again filed a lawsuit
challenging the comprehensive 281 environmental assessment. After
initial arguments, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs' case had
sufficient standing to move forward with discovery. During the
discovery process, TxDOT announced that they found a document that was
omitted from the administrative record for the federal environmental
approval and asked for a 60 day stay to allow time to submit the
document to the FHWA for review to determine if it would change the
overall findings of the study. In early October 2008, TxDOT then
reported that they had uncovered a conflict of interest with the
contractor who performed the endangered species study.
Specifically, it was discovered that a TxDOT staff biologist was
married to an employee of the company hired to do the a portion of the
study. It was further discovered that the TxDOT employee's
supervisor was aware of the situation and allowed it but that controls
put in place to mitigate the conflict were not enforced. Although
it was determined that this likely had no impact on the results of the
study, TxDOT asked the FHWA to revoke their environmental approval for
the project to short-circuit the inevitable legal battle.
Subsequently, all parties involved (TxDOT, ARMA, and the FHWA) agreed
to do a more comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) for the
corridor and the lawsuit was dismissed as moot in November 2008.
In April 2009, ARMA hired the consultant to develop the new EIS and it
is expected to be completed by 2014.
legal challenges notwithstanding, ARMA had hired Cibolo Creek
Infrastructure Joint Venture in May 2008 to design and build the 281
project. The consortium was headed by Fluor Enterprises of
Irving, Texas, and Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Inc. of Atlanta, and
included several San Antonio subcontractors. (Contrary to public
perception, this consortium included no foreign companies.)
Design work was 30% completed when it was stopped in late 2008 due to
the aforementioned litigation and subsequent decision to do a full
EIS. ARMA had planned to start construction in late 2008 or early
2009 on the first segment, from Loop 1604 to Marshall Rd., with
estimated completion in late 2010. However, those plans were
scrapped and a new project will be recommended at the conclusion of the
environmental impact statement process.
2009, Congress approved a national economic "stimulus" plan
that poured additional federal money into road construction
The Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) approved allocating San
Antonio's share of transportation stimulus funding to be used as
matching funds to leverage state funding for first half of a 281/1604
interchange. This project is building all four of the ramps
connecting to 281 south of 1604, i.e. northbound 281 to both directions
of 1604, and both directions of 1604 to southbound 281. The
of the federal funds allowed the ramps to be toll-free. The
Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) approved the funding request on
March 5th, 2009. Construction began in early 2011 is expected to
be complete in early 2013. It
determined that ramps connecting to 281 north of 1604 could not be
built until lingering issues stemming from the lawsuits and associated
environmental studies for 281 north of 1604 are resolved.
However, funding has already been set aside for those ramps so
that construction can begin as soon as the legal and environmental
issues are resolved. For more information on
the 281/1604 interchange, click
May 2012, local officials announced they had identified funding to
construct expressway lanes on US 281 from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak
Pkwy and on Loop 1604 from Bandera Rd. to Wiseman Blvd. The
current working plan for US 281 is to include two to three toll-free
lanes in each direction and one or two high-occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes.
The HOT lane would include direct access to a park and ride
that is currently being planned for the corridor. It is hoped
construction can begin sometime in 2014 or 2015 once the ongoing
environmental study of the corridor is complete and approved and
barring any further legal challenges. Over on Loop 1604, the
current plans are to build two toll-free expressway lanes in each
direction with room left for future toll lanes (essentially an
extension of the existing freeway configuration at Bandera Rd.
southward) once the current environmental study is complete in 2013.
Plans are also moving forward to add managed toll lanes to Loop
1604 from Bandera Rd. to US 281.
sites of interest