Antonio Area Freeway System
US Highway 281 North (Walter McAllister Freeway)
|This page last updated December 2, 2016
||This page covers US 281 north of downtown San
Antonio from the I-35 interchange to Sonterra Blvd. US 281
continues south of downtown concurrent (multiplexed) with I-37.
Length: 14 miles
looking for more information on the US 281 "superstreet"?
See the superstreets
freeway is the
backbone for the San Antonio's booming North-Central area.
The route serves
Trinity University, the University of the Incarnate Word, Brackenridge
the San Antonio Zoo, Alamo Stadium, The Quarry and Lincoln Heights
developments, San Antonio International Airport, and the Stone Oak
well as the suburban cities of Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, Hollywood
Hill Country Village.
downtown, 281 snakes around the southern edge of the Brackenridge Golf
before shoehorning between the San Antonio Zoo and Alamo
north, the freeway crosses the Olmos Dam and sails over the wooded
and flood control basin. North of Basse, the landscape
suburban in character, and dense commercial development is achieved
Antonio International Airport at Loop 410 all the way to
1604 with a short gap at the end of an airport runway between Rhapsody and Nakoma. The freeway
ends just north of 1604 and becomes a divided highway continuing into
booming hinterland areas of northern Bexar County and Bulverde.
section of freeway
is occasionally mistakenly called I-37. While I-37 runs
concurrent with US 281 in southeast and downtown San Antonio, it ends
at I-35 while US 281 continues north from there.
281's 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
traverse an overburdened 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 opened in late December 2012.
the northern half of the interchange is expected to begin in 2017.
for a schematic of US 281 North.
- 8 lanes from I-35 to St. Mary's
- 6 lanes from St. Mary's to
- 8 lanes from Hildebrand to Sunset
- 6 lanes from Sunset to Isom
- 8 lanes from Isom to
- 6 lanes from Donella to Sonterra
- No 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.
- Continuous access roads remainder of route except
through San Pedro interchange.
for a list of US 281 North exits.
from I-35 to Hildebrand
- 65 mph from Hildebrand to
|SPECIAL FEATURES &
- TransGuide coverage from I-35 to Basse
- Southbound left exit to
- Northbound left
exit to Loop 1604
- Partial directional interchange
at Loop 1604
- Winding and scenic route from I-35 to Basse
- Landing lights for a runway at San Antonio
International Airport cross over the freeway on a truss just south of
|Generally heavy along entire route.
Regular morning peak congestion occurs inbound along most of the route. Regular afternoon peak-period
congestion occurs outbound between I-35 and Hildebrand and from Nakoma to
Sonterra and inbound from Loop 410 to Hildebrand.
Traffic volumes have increased appreciably
throughout most of the corridor over the past decade although most locations were flat over the past year.
ANNUAL DAILY TRAFFIC
|Jones-Maltsberger Rd. N||51,000||113,580||77,000||83,695||93,318||93,957||-17.28%|
for photos and video of this
current projects in this corridor.
freeway north of Loop 1604 to Stone Oak was scheduled to start in 2003
postponed due to funding constraints caused by a sudden increase in
construction costs. Shortly thereafter, the Texas
that all new freeway projects be evaluated as toll projects.
that, TxDOT changed the project north of 1604 to a tollway.
That plan, along with the previously planned overpass at Borgfeld, was
suspended in 2006 pending federal approval of a new environmental
resulting from litigation from toll road opponents. That new
released in early 2007, showed no significant impacts. The
Administration (FHWA) approved the new assessment on August 14th, 2007,
TxDOT to build the entire 281 tollway in Bexar County from 1604 to
which TxDOT and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) then
planned to do
as a two phase project. However, toll opponents again filed a
February 2008 challenging the the results of the latest environmental
As a result of that lawsuit, the Federal Highway Administration
prior approvals and directed ARMA to perform a more comprehensive
impact statement before any expansion project can be built.
work was completed and approved by the FHWA in August 2015.
its session in early 2015, the Texas Legislature approved a
funding source for
highways that will allocate approximately $2.5 billion from sales taxes
and motor vehicle sales taxes annually to highways. During
the summer of 2015, several
local officials indicated that should voters pass the new financing and
funding then be allocated by the state, efforts would be made to remove
the toll component from the US 281 project. In early
September 2015, the MPO
approved a resolution to that effect and the Texas Transportation
Commission approved the funding change later that month. The
new funding was subsequently approved by voters in November 2015
and the toll component was dropped from the 281 plans. The
project will now include four to six toll-free freeway lanes with
two HOV lanes in the center of the freeway. In addition, the
northern ramps for the Loop 1604 interchange, which had been on hold
pending the outcome of the expansion project, will also be completed
and will also be non-tolled. Construction is expected to begin on
the interchange and first phase of the freeway project in 2017 with the
second phase possibly starting in 2018 or 2019.
are still on the books to upgrade US 281 to a full freeway all the way
to FM 306 at the Comal/Blanco County line. The
phase of that eventual plan was to upgrade 281 from a
two-lane road to a
four-lane divided highway from the Guadalupe River to FM 306; work on
that project was completed in early 2015.
281 opened to traffic
on February 7, 1978 and was certified on September 11, 1978.
Named for Walter
McAllister, San Antonio's mayor when the freeway was
proposed. McAllister was
influential in getting the freeway built. It was originally named the "North
highway was one of
the most controversial freeway projects in US history. It was
acknowledged by the early '50s that the city needed a north-central
planning for the route had quietly begun by 1955. By 1960,
several routes for
the North Expressway were being considered: San Pedro, McCullough, and
Broadway. The San Pedro route was dismissed because it did
not provide direct access
to San Antonio International Airport. The Broadway route
would require too
much expensive right-of-way to be acquired. The McCullough
route was also deemed to be too
expensive. So a "greenfield" route midway between Broadway and McCullough
that wound around
Brackenridge Park (clipping-off a corner of the golf course), through
suburb of Olmos Park, and over the Olmos flood control basin was proposed. The
City of Olmos Park blocked that route though, so the Texas Highway
chose an alternate route that skirted around the eastern edge of the
The route ran between Alamo Stadium, the Sunken Gardens and the San
Zoo. On January 10, 1961, San Antonio voters approved a bond
issue to purchase
land to replace the parkland that would be taken for the
freeway. There was,
however, heated debate over this routing as well. The
conservationists and preservationists centered on the "Yarborough
caveat in federal highway funding rules prohibiting the taking of
highways. The section of the freeway skirting Olmos Park
would run through the
Olmos flood control basin, a wooded area viewed as "parkland" by
1969, after years of protests and legal wrangling by the San Antonio
Conservation Society, work began on the undisputed southern and
of the freeway while the debate over the routing of the center section
continued. In May of 1971, 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
interchange at Loop 410. In 1972, the US Supreme Court upheld
court's injunction and it appeared that the North Expressway was
However, in 1973, Senators John Tower and Lloyd Bentsen sponsored
which would allow the City and State to build the freeway without
money. The legislation passed both houses of Congress and was
upheld by a US
District Court on December 10, 1973, removing all federal involvement
project and allowing the City and State to go it alone. Work
resumed on the
project's stalled northern and southern segments within 24 hours of the
ruling. A last-ditch court challenge suspended the project
for five more
months in mid-1974, but that case was dismissed and work started on the
controversial center section on November 13, 1974. The
freeway opened on
February 7, 1978, and in 1981 was named by the American Association of
Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) as one of the nation's
attractive urban freeways.
extended to just north of the airport at Bitters. From there
northward, US 281 was
a four lane divided highway. In 1987, a project to upgrade
Bitters to just north of Loop 1604 was started. This project
innovative traffic-handling methods during construction which actually
smoother traffic flow during the construction than before.
traffic-handling techniques are very similar to
the eventual "super-street" implemented north of Loop 1604.) Even
more noteworthy was that the five mile project
finished in a record 24 months. Because the city's thoroughfare
plan showed a future east-west arterial north of Loop 1604, the
Sonterra overpass was
built as part of the freeway extension
project. However, Sonterra Blvd. was not
extended to the overpass until April 2000, resulting in the overpass
being unused for nearly a decade.
added south of St. Mary's in 1995 and between St. Mary's and Basse in
The overpass at FM 1863 in Bulverde was completed in 2000.
elevated ramp leading from
northbound 281 into the airport complex opened on June 29, 2001.
early 2004, an
additional lane in each direction for most of the route between San
Loop 1604 was added by restriping the roadway and eliminating the inner
shoulder. The same technique was used in mid-2006 to add an
extra lane in each
direction from Jones-Maltsberger near the Quarry south to Hildebrand as
the 281/410 interchange project.
late 2004, work began
on clearing the right-of-way for the tolled expansion of 281 north of
Stone Oak Parkway. A lawsuit by opponents of the project
halted work in
January 2005. (More information about this project is at
the US 281 North expansion project page.)
first ramp in the
281/410 interchange opened to traffic on June 18th, 2007 and the final
were open to traffic on June 9th, 2008. The interchange
project also added
additional lanes between Loop 410 and Nakoma and extended TransGuide
from Basse to Nakoma. (Also see the History of the
US 281/Loop 410 interchange page.)
October 2010, work was completed to upgrade 281 to a "superstreet" from
Rio to Marshall. Under the plan, the intersections of Encino
Rio, Evans, Stone
Oak, and Marshall were redesigned to eliminate straight-through and
movements on those intersecting roadways. This signal changes afforded by this configuration
congestion in the area. This proposal was considered a
"band-aid" until a more significant
281 was able to be done. See the superstreets
page for more information.
first ramps in the
281/1604 interchange opened on November 8, 2012.