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Other San Antonio Area Roads
PROJECT INFO: Bandera Rd. RCUTs (Helotes)

This page last updated May 12, 2022

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Project locationLocation
Bandera Rd. (SH 16) from Legend Trail to Diamond K Trail

Status
Construction starting soon

Timeline
Construction is expected to begin in mid 2022 and take about two years to complete. The construction of a new underground drainage system increased the duration of this project.

Summary
Here is a brief summary of this project:
  • This project will convert intersections along Bandera Rd. to "Restricted Crossing U-Turn" (RCUT) intersections from Legend Trail to Diamond K Trail.
  • This will modify the intersections at Hausman/Leslie and Cedar Trail to force traffic on those cross streets to turn right, i.e. left turns and straight-through movements from those cross streets will be blocked, but left turns from Bandera Rd. to those cross streets will still be allowed.
  • Downstream turnarounds will then allow traffic from the cross street to make a U-turn to return to their intended direction of travel.
  • This is the same configuration as at FM 1560 South.
  • Doing this reduces the number of traffic signal phases required to move traffic through the intersection thereby allowing for longer green times for all movements without extending the overall cycle time. This allows for more traffic to move through in the same amount of time, thus reducing wait times and congestion.
  • While it seems confusing at first, it's actually pretty easy to navigate.
  • Studies of past RCUTs show improved safety as well as reduced congestion.
  • A new left turn will be built from northbound Bandera Rd. to Legend Trail.
  • The crossover at Diamond K Trail will be closed.
  • Bandera Rd. will be widened to three lanes each direction between Hausman/Leslie and Circle A Trail.

  • Based on community feedback, TxDOT directed their consultant to study possible changes at Circle A Trail, but that study determined that the changes desired by local residents would result in increased crashes and congestion due to the disruption that would be introduced by the signal timings required to facilitate left turns from Circle A Trail. (See further explanation below.)

Description
This project will convert the intersections on Bandera Rd. at Hausman/Leslie and Cedar Trail to Restricted Crossing U-Turn (RCUT) intersections, add signalized turnarounds at multiple intermediate locations, and close the crossover at Diamond K Trail. This project will also construct a new signalized left turn from northbound Bandera Rd. to Legend Trail, will expand the southbound Bandera left turn to Hausman to two lanes, and will widen Bandera to three lanes in each direction between Hausman/Leslie and Circle A Trail.

The RCUT intersections will prevent traffic on Leslie/Hausman and Cedar Trail from going straight or turning left. Instead, all traffic will make a right turn, then use a signalized turnaround about 1000 feet downstream to make a U-turn and continue in the intended direction of travel. Left turns from Bandera Rd. to those cross streets will still be allowed. To better visualize this, click on the following diagram.

LEFT TURN MOVEMENTS DIAGRAM

Click above to see a simplified diagram of how drivers will make a left turn at each intersection

This project will also build an underground storm drainage system and sidewalks throughout.

The intersection at FM 1560 South was converted to an RCUT configuration in 2018, and the intersection at Loop 1604 was converted to a displaced left turn (DLT) in 2019, so this will close the gap between these two improved intersections and complete the master plan for this section of Bandera Rd. TxDOT plans to eventually continue the RCUT configuration all the way to Triana Pkwy. as traffic warrants.

An RCUT intersection is also known as a "superstreet"..

Typical RCUT intersection


How this project will help

The Hausman/Leslie intersection experiences significant to severe recurring congestion during both the morning and evening rush hours. By forcing traffic on Hausman/Leslie to turn right, this will overlap that traffic with the corresponding left turn from Bandera and will eliminate the need for discrete green time for the left turn and straight-through movements from those streets. The green time that would have been needed for those movements can instead be allocated to the remaining movements, which therefore will allow more traffic through the intersection in the same period of time, thus significantly reducing wait times and congestion.

Additionally, with an RCUT, each half of the intersection operates independently of the other, so the signals along each direction of Bandera Rd. can be timed separately from the other direction, which means better coordination and synchronization are possible.

Modeling showed that this configuration is expected to provide good long-term congestion relief based on 20-year traffic projections.

Example Bandera-Hausman/Leslie Signal Timings
These charts show the proportion of each signal cycle dedicated to each movement (i.e. green time for that movement.) Cycle time for both is equal (~150 seconds.) Up/down arrows represent north/south Bandera Rd. Current timing splits are approximate as they change during the day, but are typical. RCUT timings are an example to illustrate how combining the turning movements into a single phase using the longest previous phase duration frees-up time for the remaining Bandera Rd. through-traffic phase without changing the overall cycle length. It is possible-- and even likely-- that the proportion of time allocated to the turning movements could be increased to improve throughput while still providing increased green time for Bandera Rd. through traffic. Finally, in an RCUT intersection, the signals on each side of Bandera Rd. can be timed independently of the other, so the RCUT chart below combines both directions for simplicity.

Current
RCUT

Superstreet For a deeper explanation on how an RCUT functions and how it improves traffic flow, see the main Restricted Crossing U-Turn intersections page.

Although it's currently not as congested, converting the Cedar Trail intersection is necessary to provide continuity of improvement. If the Cedar Trail intersection were not also converted, then it would soon become a bottleneck as its conventional signal cycle would not be congruous with the improved throughput at intersections upstream in both directions.

The new left turn at Legend Trail will provide new direct access to the Stanton Run neighborhood from northbound Bandera Rd. That traffic today must make a U-turn at Cedar Trail which will be prohibited after the conversion. Since a turnaround for southbound Bandera Rd. will be necessary at that location anyway, the left turn to Legend Trail was a sensible addition. The new signal it introduces for southbound Bandera will be integrated into the overall signal coordination afforded by the upstream RCUTs.

Closing the crossover at Diamond K Trail is necessary as it has become an increasingly dangerous intersection and will be more so in the future, and direct crossovers like this within an RCUT segment negate the safety and congestion improvements the RCUTs provide. 

Circle A Trail intersection: With the previous project to realign the FM 1560 South intersection, the intersection at Circle A Trail was changed to a signalized right-in/right-out configuration (i.e. no left turns or crossovers.) This was done to streamline traffic operations in the area as that intersection is fairly close to the new FM 1560 intersection and is between it and the southbound to northbound turnaround. This has understandably caused some consternation and grousing among residents of Helotes Park Estates who are now required to make a right turn and proceed to a turnaround of a mile away in order to go south on Bandera, adding about mile to their trip. (Some conspiracy-minded residents even absurdly assert that this configuration is retaliatory in some way.)

Based on resident feedback as part of the planning for the upcoming project, TxDOT asked their engineering consultant to re-evaluate the Circle A Trail intersection to determine if it would be feasible to allow left turns from Circle A to southbound Bandera. While still physically possible, the analysis showed that doing so would be problematic from an overall operational standpoint. With the RCUT, the signals on each direction of the corridor operate independently and therefore can be better timed for the respective traffic volumes, thus resulting in better overall traffic flow and fewer delays for all directions of travel. Converting the Circle A intersection to allow left turns would require the signals for northbound and southbound Bandera at that location to return to interdependent operation, thus negatively impacting the coordination of the signals in one or both directions. Those negative impacts would nullify the benefits of the RCUTs and result in this intersection becoming a new bottleneck, the significance of which would increase over time as traffic in the corridor increases.

There were also safety issues with reintroducing left turn cross traffic conflicts at one location in a corridor that otherwise will not have any. The negative impacts to the overall corridor operation and safety were significant enough to outweigh the benefits for the relatively small volume of traffic from Circle A Trail.

It's worth noting that reducing congestion along Bandera benefits the residents of Helotes Park Estates and should reduce their overall travel time in the corridor even with the additional travel time required to execute the right-turn and U-turn, and that there are many other locations where drivers are required to go a little out of their way for the benefit of overall efficiency and safety, including some existing nearby legacy locations along Bandera Rd.

FAQ
  • This looks confusing. It will cause lots of crashes.
    This is always one of the first knee-jerk assertions made when an unconventional intersection is introduced. With any change-- even more conventional changes such as new signals or lanes-- it naturally takes drivers a little time to adapt. With an RCUT, because all traffic on the intersecting street is forced to turn right, most confusion is quickly overcome instinctively once the driver has turned or as the driver follows other more experienced drivers through the intersection. Additionally, because all traffic is flowing in the same direction and is protected by signals, the likelihood of collisions is substantially reduced, even during the adjustment period. RCUTs also inherently improve safety by reducing conflict points (the point where vehicle paths cross) by half.

    Statistics for RCUTs show improved safety. A study for the North Carolina DOT showed that RCUTs reduced traffic collisions by 46% and decreased crashes with injuries by 63%. A study of RCUT intersections in Missouri showed a 54% reduction in injury and fatal crashes. Many people predicted mayhem at the Bandera/1604 displaced left-turn intersection, but crashes decreased 44% during the first nine months after it was completed.


  • How does this crazy design improve traffic? How does adding even more traffic signals help?
    This intersection design improves traffic because, by forcing all traffic on the cross street to turn right, the green time for that can be overlapped with the green time for traffic turning left from Bandera onto the cross street. This essentially eliminates the green time that would be needed for the through and left turn movements on the cross street, so that time can then be reallocated to the remaining movements, thus moving more traffic through the intersection in the same amount of time. Although there are extra signals, they are all much more efficient and are better coordinated. See the "How an RCUT works" section of the main Retricted Crossing U-Turn intersections page for a deeper explanation of the RCUT "secret sauce".

  • All they have to do is adjust the signal timing and that will solve the problem.
    It's a common belief that congestion can be solved by simply adjusting the signal timing. In some specific cases, that can be true, but at very busy intersections like these where there has to be sufficient green time for eight different movements on every cycle, the signals can only be optimized so much before the laws of physics win. For example, the green time on Hausman could be extended to help clear out the peak period backups that occur there, but that means the light will stay red longer for Bandera, which then increases the backups and delays there. If the green time on Bandera is then increased to ease those backups, that means the light will stay red longer for Hausman and you're right back where you started. So as you can see, it's really not as easy as it sounds.

  • This causes people to have to go out of their way, which is inconvenient and will require more time to get across Bandera Rd.
    Some folks understandably are peeved that to turn left or go straight on the cross street requires going out of one's way to accomplish, and think that doing so will increase travel time. While the former is true and will always be perceived as an inconvenience by many drivers, wait times in general should be shorter and overall congestion in the area reduced. As a result, travel time through the intersection should typically be shorter or at least no longer than it would be at a conventional intersection even with the added time necessary to use the turnaround. Also keep in mind that there are many other examples where traffic wanting to make a left turn is prohibited from doing so due to a median, freeway, or one-way street and must therefore turn right first, then make a downstream U-turn or series of left turns, so this situation is not unprecedented or unique to RCUTs. In fact, this has already been the case along much of this section of Bandera Rd. due to the existing median.

  • This will increase emergency response times in the area.
    TxDOT worked with the City of Helotes to mitigate concerns with response times. As a result, some adjustments to the plans were made including an emergency vehicle median crossover at Hausman/Leslie, and additional pavement at the northwest corner of that intersection to facilitate a turnaround for emergency vehicles. Again, it's worth noting that most of this stretch of Bandera today does not have intermediate crossovers, and after the aforementioned adjustments, the only crossover being lost for emergency vehicles is at Diamond K Trail, which is being mitigated by ensuring that emergency vehicles will be able to make a U-turn at Hausman/Leslie.

  • If I'm headed south on FM 1560 (Hausman Rd.) and want to go to Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Bill Miller's, or O'Connor High School, or head southbound on Bandera Rd., how do I get there?
    At Bandera Rd., you'll turn right, travel about 1000 feet to a turnaround (just past Little Caesar's Pizza), then head southbound on Bandera where you can turn right at Bill Miller's, Leslie Rd. (for O'Connor HS), Starbucks, or Wal-Mart, or continue straight on southbound Bandera. To return to Hausman Rd. from Bill Miller's, O'Connor, Starbucks, or Wal-Mart, you'll turn right onto Bandera Rd. and use a turnaround just past Wal-Mart to return to Hausman Rd., which, in several of those scenarios, is more convenient than what's there today.

  • Why not build overpasses instead?
    Across the country, traffic engineers have discovered that innovative intersections like this can produce good congestion relief and safety at a fraction of the cost and construction time of flyovers and other traditional grade-separated solutions. This allows the limited transportation dollars to be saved and used for other needed projects.

    The current and future traffic volumes and safety considerations along Bandera Rd. aren't sufficient to justify the construction of overpasses or conversion to a freeway, but they are in the "sweet spot" to support RCUTs. Furthermore, the right-of-way along Bandera Rd. is not wide enough for overpasses or a freeway, so the cost would be considerably higher as additional right-of-way would have to be obtained, which likely would result in the displacement of many businesses.

  • Why are there signals to leave the turnarounds?
    This is to prevent slower moving vehicles from entering the faster traffic stream and causing conflicts that could result in collisions or congestion. 

  • Will the Circle A Trail intersection be changed to allow left turns again?
    No, that intersection is outside the scope of this project. TxDOT did re-evaluate this intersection when planning this project; see the discussion of this in the "How this project will help" section above.

  • Are there any other RCUTs in San Antonio?
    Yes, there have been two RCUT segments in San Antonio. One was on US 281 north of Loop 1604 and the other was nearby on Loop 1604 between Braun Rd. and Culebra Rd. Both were built as short-term solutions while funding for freeway expansions was obtained. As intended, the Loop 1604 RCUT was replaced by a freeway in 2016, and the US 281 RCUT was replaced by a freeway in 2021. Unlike the 281 and 1604 RCUTs, which were built as short-term fixes, the RCUTs in Helotes are considered a long-term solution. RCUTs were also considered for Bandera Rd. inside Loop 1604, but have been tabled while a new corridor study is conducted. RCUTs have also been constructed on a segment of Loop 337 in New Braunfels, and they are planned for Loop 1604 from US 90 to Macdona Lacoste Rd.

  • I heard that the US 281 "superstreet" was removed was because it was not working well, so why build one here?
    There had been plans to upgrade US 281 in that area to a freeway since 2000. However, lawsuits by anti-toll activists and environmentalists and a resulting requirement to conduct a lengthly environmental study delayed the project for nearly two decades. In 2009, with congestion reaching severe levels, the "superstreet" (RCUT intersections) was proposed as a short-term "band-aid" to help provide some relief, which it did until construction on the freeway was finally able to get started in 2017. The expected traffic volumes on US 281 exceed what RCUTs can optimally handle, so they would never have been planned as a permanent solution there. However, the current and projected traffic volumes on Bandera Rd. are in the "sweet spot" for RCUTs to have a significant long-term positive impact. For comparison, traffic volumes on the section of US 281 with the RCUTs ranged from 55,000 at Marshall Rd. to 100,000 at Redland Rd., while on Bandera they range from 26,000 just west of FM 1560 South to 43,000 at Loop 1604.

  • Who came up with this cockamamie design? This won't work and is just a waste of money.
    The RCUT design has been used in several US states for more than 20 years and has a proven track record of improving traffic wherever it has been implemented. Both the US 281 and Loop 1604 RCUTs showed appreciable improvments, and computer modeling shows that these RCUTs will do the same. An RCUT is one of several types of "innovative" or "alternative" intersection designs being implemented across the country at intersections where improvements from conventional expansions will be short-lived but where conditions do not warrant more expensive traditional upgrades such as flyovers. Many people expressed similar doubts about the nearby Bandera/1604 displaced left turn (DLT) intersection, but the new design has substantially reduced congestion and crashes there.

Schematic
Click on the image below to open the detailed schematic for this project from TxDOT with my own annotations added to help clarify and explain the various elements. The schematic will open in a new window that you can scroll and zoom. 


DETAILED PROJECT SCHEMATIC

Click above to see the detailed annotated schematic for this project


Video
TxDOT has a good video that describes this project:




Other sites of interest

TxDOT - Virtual Public Meeting - SH 16 Helotes
https://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/get-involved/about/hearings-meetings/san-antonio/063020.html
TxDOT - SH 16 Helotes Proposed Roadway Improvement video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sY97-816VAY&feature=youtu.be
Pape-Dawson "Superstreets in Texas" presentation
https://drive.google.com/file/d/16b1w_qy_D8A2U_ZWhkG8jtkPZFqcNXlm/view
Wikipedia - Superstreet
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superstreet
Virginia Department of Transportation -  Restricted Crossing U-Turn
https://virginiadot.org/info/innovative_intersections_and_interchanges/rcut.asp
Federal Highway Administration - Restricted Crossing U-Turn Intersection Informational Guide
https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/alter_design/pdf/fhwasa14070_rcut_infoguide.pdf
An Update on Superstreet Implementation and Research
http://www.accessmanagement.info/AM08/AM0807Hummer/AM0807Hummer.pdf
NC Department of Transportation presentation on superstreets
(Excellent explanation of all aspects of superstreets)

https://www.partnc.org/DocumentCenter/View/331/NCDOT-Superstreet-Presentation-PDF




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