Antonio Area Freeway System
Highway 281 North (Walter
page last updated November 27, 2012
covers US 281 north of downtown San Antonio from the I-35 interchange
to Sonterra Blvd. US 281 continues south of downtown
(multiplexed) with I-37.
looking for more information on the US 281 "superstreet"?
See the superstreets page.
On this page
the backbone for the San Antonio's booming North-Central
The route serves Trinity University, the University of the Incarnate
Word, Brackenridge Park, the San Antonio Zoo, Alamo Stadium, The Quarry
and Lincoln Heights developments, San Antonio International Airport,
the Stone Oak area, as well as the suburban cities of Alamo Heights,
Olmos Park, Hollywood Park, and Hill Country Village.
outbound from downtown, 281 snakes around the southern edge of the
Brackenridge Golf Course before shoehorning between the San Antonio Zoo
and Alamo Stadium. Continuing north, the freeway crosses the
Olmos Dam and sails over the wooded Olmos Park and flood control
basin. North of Basse, the landscape becomes increasingly
suburban in character, and maximum commercial development is achieved
near San Antonio International Airport at Loop 410 all the way to
1604. The freeway ends just north of 1604 and becomes a
highway continuing into the booming hinterland areas of northern Bexar
County and Bulverde.
freeway is sometimes mistakenly called I-37. However,
I-37 begins at I-35 on the northeastern corner of downtown and runs
south from there.
intersection at Loop 1604 currently lacks a fully directional
interchange. Prior to November 2012, traffic destined for
Loop 1604 was required to exit onto access roads and traverse an
three-level interchange. However, the first
phase of a five-level interchange opened in November 2012 and provided
direct connections from US 281 northbound to both directions of Loop
1604. Ramps from Loop 1604 to southbound US 281 are due to
open in early 2013. Construction on the northern half of the
interchange cannot begin until an environmental study of US 281 north
of 1604 is complete sometime in 2014. However, funding for
that part of the interchange project has already been secured.
years without direct connectors, a four-level interchange at
Loop 410 was completed in June 2008.
schematic of US 281 North.
lanes from I-35 to St. Mary's
lanes from St. Mary's to
lanes from Hildebrand to
lanes from Jones-Maltsberger
(Quarry) to Isom
lanes (4 inbound, 3 outbound)
from Isom to Oak Shadows
lanes from Oak Shadows to Donella
lanes from Donella to Sonterra
continuous access roads from I-35 to Loop 410, with the exception of
short sections of access road southbound from Loop 410 to Sunset and
northbound from Parkridge to Loop 410.
access roads remainder of route except through San Pedro interchange.
for a list of
US 281 North exits.
mph from I-35 to
from Hildebrand to Sonterra
FEATURES & NOTES
coverage from I-35 to Nakoma
to northbound I-35
exit to Loop 1604
directional interchange at Loop
and scenic route from I-35 to Basse
lights for a runway at San Antonio International Airport cross over the
freeway on a truss just south of Nakoma
heavy along entire route. Regular morning peak congestion
inbound from Bitters to Loop 410 and from Hildebrand to I-35.
Regular afternoon peak-period congestion occurs outbound between I-35
and Basse and from Nakoma to Sonterra.
have increased substantially throughout most of the corridor over the
decade. Traffic counts just outside Loop 1604 more than
piddling 24,000 in 1990 to 51,000 in 2000 and then again to 105,000 in
2006 ranking it as the eighth fastest growing count in the city since
ANNUAL DAILY TRAFFIC
for photos and video of this
with the Wurzbach Parkway
project, the following improvements are being made to US 281:
northbound exit for Bitters will
be reduced from two lanes to one,
moved south to under the Nakoma overpass, and will become the exit for
ramp for Bitters will be
constructed at the same location as the
current northbound entrance ramp from Nakoma (near Country Pkwy., or
about 700 yards south of Bitters). This ramp will be built
the existing entrance ramp (i.e. a "braided" ramp).
southbound entrance ramp from Bitters
will be reversed to become
the southbound exit for Wurzbach and Nakoma.
southbound exit ramp for Nakoma
will be reversed to become the
southbound entrance from Wurzbach and Bitters.
turnaround will be constructed at Nakoma
for southbound to
at Bitters will be widened and US 281 northbound will be restriped to
four lanes from Nakoma through
overview map showing the locations of these improvements.
improvements are also included on the US 281 North schematic
improvements are scheduled to be complete in mid 2014.
the freeway north of Loop 1604 to Stone Oak was scheduled to start in
2003 but was postponed due to funding constraints caused by a sudden
increase in construction costs. Shortly thereafter, the
Transportation Commission required that all new expressway projects be
evaluated as toll projects. Persuant to that, TxDOT decided to
build the new expressway north of 1604 as a tollway. That
along with the previously planned overpass at Borgfeld, was suspended
in 2006 pending federal approval of a new environmental assessment
resulting from litigation from toll road opponents. That new
assessment, released in early 2007, showed no significant
impacts. The Federal Highway Administration approved the new
assessment on August 14th, 2007, and authorized TxDOT to build the
entire 281 tollway in Bexar County from 1604 to Borgfeld, which TxDOT
and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) then planned to do
as a two phase project. However, toll opponents again filed a
lawsuit in February 2008 challenging the the results of the latest
environmental study. As a result of that lawsuit, the Federal
Highway Administration rescinded its prior approvals and directed ARMA
to perform a more comprehensive
environmental impact statement before any expansion project can be
built. It is expected that study will be completed in 2014.
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
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
that construction can begin as soon as the legal and environmental
issues are resolved. For
more information on
the 281/1604 interchange, click
In October 2010, work was completed to upgrade 281 to a "superstreet"
from Encino Rio to
Under the plan, the intersections of Encino Rio, Evans, Stone Oak, and
Marshall were redesigned to eliminate straight-through and
left-turn movements on those intersecting roadways. This
configuration helped relieve overall congestion in the area because it
signal cycles at each intersection from five or six phases to just two,
additional green time for 281 traffic. This proposal is
considered a short-term "band-aid" until the environmental studies for
a more significant upgrade of 281 are complete. See
the superstreets page
to traffic on February 7, 1978 and was certified on September 11,
1978. Named for Walter McAllister, San Antonio's mayor when
freeway was proposed. McAllister was influential in getting
freeway built. Was originally called the "North Expressway."
was one of the most controversial freeway projects in US
It was widely acknowledged by the early '50s that the city needed a
north-central freeway and planning for the route had quietly begun by
1955. By 1960, several routes for the North Expressway were
considered: San Pedro, McCullough, and Broadway. The San
route was dismissed because it did not provide access to San Antonio
International Airport. The Broadway route would require too
expensive right-of-way to be acquired. The McCullough route
also too expensive. So a route midway between Broadway and
McCullough that wound around Brackenridge Park (clipping-off a corner
of the golf course), through the suburb of Olmos Park, and over the
Olmos flood control basin was selected. The City of Olmos
blocked that route though, so the Texas Highway Department chose an
alternate route that skirted around the eastern edge of the
suburb. The route ran between Alamo Stadium, the Sunken
and the San Antonio Zoo. On January 10, 1961, San Antonio
approved a bond issue to purchase land to replace the parkland that
would be taken for the freeway. There was, however, heated
over this routing as well. The protests by conservationists
preservationists centered on the "Yarborough Rule"-- a caveat in
federal highway funding rules prohibiting the taking of parklands for
highways. The section of the freeway skirting Olmos Park
run through the Olmos flood control basin, a wooded area viewed as
"parkland" by many. In 1969, after years of protests and
wrangling by the San Antonio Conservation Society, work began on the
undisputed southern and northern thirds of the freeway while the debate
over the routing of the center section continued. In May of
construction on the whole project was halted by a federal court, which
also revoked the project's federal funding. This delay caused
problems for the City, which was trying to secure the land for a
planned interchange at Loop 410. In 1972, the US Supreme
upheld the lower court's injunction and it appeared that the North
Expressway was dead. However, in 1973, Senators John Tower
Lloyd Bentsen sponsored legislation which would allow the City and
State to build the freeway without federal money. The
passed both houses of Congress and was upheld by a US District Court on
December 10, 1973, removing all federal involvement in the project and
allowing the City and State to go it alone. Work resumed on
project's stalled northern and southern segments within 24 hours of the
ruling. A last-ditch court challenge suspended the project
five more months in mid-1974, but that case was dismissed and work
started on the controversial center section on November 13,
The freeway opened on February 7, 1978, and in 1981 was named by the
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
(AASHTO) as one of the nation's three most attractive urban freeways.
originally extended to just north of the Airport at Bitters.
there northward it was a four lane divided highway. In 1987,
project to upgrade the section from Bitters to just north of Loop 1604
was started. This project tested several innovative
traffic-handling methods during construction which actually made for
smoother traffic flow during the construction than before.
traffic-handling techniques are very similar to the proposed
"super-street" plans for 281 north of 1604.) Even more
spectacular: the five mile project was finished in a record 24 months.
coverage was added south of St. Mary's in 1995 and between St. Mary's
and Basse in October, 1998.
overpass was built in the late '80s in conjunction with the freeway
extension project and was used by construction vehicles during the
freeway project. However, no road connected to it at that
so it was left unused for a decade after the construction was
complete. Sonterra Blvd. was finally extended to the bridge
this segment, the overpass at FM 1863 in Bulverde was completed in 2000.
leading from northbound 281 into the airport complex opened on June 29,
an additional lane in each direction for most of the route between San
Pedro and Loop 1604 was added by restriping the roadway and eliminating
the inner shoulder. The same technique was used in mid-2006
add an extra lane in each direction from Jones-Maltsberger near the
Quarry south to Hildebrand as part of the 281/410 interchange project.
work began on clearing the right-of-way for the tolled extension of 281
north of 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway. A lawsuit by opponents of
project halted work in January 2005. (More information about
project is at the US 281 North Tollway
in the 281/410 interchange opened to traffic on June 18th, 2007 and the
final ramps were open to traffic on June 9th, 2008. The
interchange project also added additional lanes between Loop 410 and
Nakoma and extended TransGuide coverage from Basse to Nakoma.
(Also see the History of the US 281/Loop 410
The first ramps
in the 281/1604 interchange opened on November 8, 2012.