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SH-211 Other San Antonio Area Roads
State Highway 211 (Texas Research Parkway)

This page last updated November 7, 2023

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SH 211 location map

SH 211 is a mostly two-lane rural arterial in far western Bexar County. Initially conceived in 1986 to provide access to the now-defunct Texas Research Park, this road today is fast becoming an outer beltline connecting burgeoning subdivisions and commercial development as San Antonio's urbanization marches westward into Medina County. While the first two end segments were able to be quickly built around 1990, the middle segment languished for three decades due to right-of-way acquisition issues, then later due to environmental constraints, before finally opening in November 2022.

This page discusses the future plans for the route as well as its complicated history.


Future plans

Potranco-US 90 improvements
TxDOT is currently studying possible improvements to this section of SH 211 to accommodate increasing traffic. As this study has just recently started, there are no firm plans yet, but an expansion to a four-lane divided highway is currently the leading possibility, and TxDOT has preliminary schematics for such an expansion already developed. 
A separate project on US 90 will reconfigure the interchange with SH 211 there.

Culebra-SH 211 interchange
A project now underway to widen Culebra Rd. from Galm Rd. to SH 211 is also constructing an overpass and interchange for SH 211 (see schematic below.)

SH 211-FM 471 interchange

Planned SH 211/FM 471 interchange
Click on the image above to open a larger annotated view that you can zoom and scroll

(Base image from TxDOT - Annotations are my own)

Third loop?
Given SH 211's location and routing, a common question that arises is, could this be the beginning of a third loop for San Antonio? While it certainly will someday function as a western beltline, TxDOT has no plans to continue SH 211 any further to the north or south and, in fact, plans to do so back in the '90s were shelved amid considerable opposition (see the history section below.)

Future freeway
As part of its planning process, TxDOT has had preliminary schematics for the ultimate development of SH 211 into a full freeway for many years. Those schematics helped to shape the interchange at FM 471 mentioned above, and helped to ensure adequate right-of-way acquisition along the most of the route. However, there are no plans at this time to upgrade any sections of SH 211 to a freeway, and any such plans are likely a decade or more away.


History

Seminal segment
While the concept of a north-south highway in far western Bexar County has been around since the late 1960s, it wasn't until the mid '80s that an actual need for such a road materialized. In 1986, land was donated for the now mostly-defunct Texas Research Park, a planned campus of biomedical research organizations and pharmaceutical companies in far western Bexar County just off FM 1957 (Potranco Rd.) At the time, this location was accessible only by Potranco Rd., and local leaders knew that to make it successful, they would need better access. So taking their cue from the then recently-built SH 151 where the land for the road was entirely donated, officials lined-up donated land to build a road from US 90 to Potranco Rd. 
The State Dept. of Highways and Public Transportation (now TxDOT) accepted the land and, recognizing the likely future need for a longer beltline in the area, a route from US 90 all the way to SH 16 was proposed and approved in 1986 and designated as SH 211. The segment from US 90 to Potranco opened in 1990 as a two-lane rural highway, but enough right-of-way was acquired to eventually widen it to a full freeway if and when needed. 

Second segment built, but middle segment stalled
Using donated land once more, the segment from FM 471 (Culebra Rd.) north to SH 16 (Bandera Rd.) was quickly completed in 1991. However, some land owners along the proposed middle section between Culebra Rd. and Potranco Rd. opted not to donate their land. Per the agreement with the state, land for the project was required to either be donated or purchased by Bexar and Medina counties, neither of which had the funds to do so. And given that there was no significant need for the route at that time, there was no political will to allocate that funding nor engage in the condemnation process that would be needed to force the acquisition. This resulted in efforts to acquire the right-of-way for that section to stall, leaving a gap in the route. However, that section remained in the City of San Antonio's major thoroughfare plan to preserve the corridor for the route, and TxDOT periodically updated the environmental clearances for it to keep it "shovel-ready". 


Circa 1989 plan for SH 211
(Source: TxDOT)

Opposition to far northern extension
Meanwhile, more virulent opposition emerged when the highway department announced they were planning yet another extension of 211, this time an approximately 14 mile stretch from SH 16 north and east to I-10 and on to FM 3351 (Ralph Fair Rd.) in far northwest Bexar County. The owner of property just north of SH 16 planned to donate a swath of land for the road. However, this path, as well as the topography of the area, limited the possible corridor for the highway to the north and resulted in the preferred alignment, as well as several of the alternatives, to run through the middle of an adjacent historic ranch (see map below.) The owners of that ranch vehemently opposed the road and hired a lawyer and an environmental firm to fight the state. A smorgasbord of issues, ranging from endangered species to water quality to archaeological finds, was proffered. Efforts were made by the state at a compromise but to no avail. Other property owners in the area along the various alternate routes then joined in opposing the plan. During the fracas, the owner of the property just north of SH 16 that was to have been donated passed-away, and the subsequent inheritor of the property then withdrew the offer to donate it for the project. Given all of these factors, and the political fallout from the publication of a clearly biased piece in Texas Monthly on the drama, the proposal for that extension was shelved in 1992, and there have been no plans to resurrect it. However, the recently-formed Save Scenic Loop Alliance briefly indicated it may support revisiting a SH 211 extension as one option to reduce traffic on Scenic Loop Road, although there appears to be no active discussions on this currently.


Circa 1992 map of possible routes for SH 211 northern extension
(Source: TxDOT)

South extension
TxDOT briefly considered an extension of the route south to I-35, but that appears to have been short-lived, and such an extension is currently not part of the route's approved description. There were also preliminary discussions of continuing the route around Camp Bullis and east to I-35 near New Braunfels, but with the tabling of the the SH 16 to I-10 segment, those plans also never progressed very far.

"Road to nowhere"
While the first segment provided an obvious benefit in connecting the research park to US 90, the other segment (from Culebra Rd. to Bandera Rd.) was often cited by some (short-sighted IMO) people as being a "road to nowhere", especially given the lack of the Culebra Rd. to Potranco Rd. segment. The fact that much of the land was donated caused some to believe that the road was built to encourage development in western Bexar County. TxDOT, however, has always maintained that the road was built to get ahead of the growth and preserve a corridor at minimal cost before development encroaches, costs increase, and the need becomes acute, thus reflecting the type of long-range planning that many citizens say they want. TxDOT cited the fact that when Loop 1604 was planned in the 1960s, it was way beyond the edge of the city and many people at that time also lambasted it as a "road to nowhere", but the wisdom of that foresight is quite evident today.

It's worth noting that despite what was alleged three decades ago, virtually no development occurred along SH 211 itself until recently. Instead, as predicted by planners, development has marched outward along US 90, Potranco Rd., Culebra Rd., and Bandera Rd., and SH 211 is becoming the efficacious lateral connector it was envisioned to be. Indeed, the need for SH 211-- and the wisdom of its existence-- is becoming acutely more evident every day as traffic counts on 211 at Potranco nearly doubled from 2015 to 2021, and the count on 211 at Bandera is up over 50% the last decade.


SH 211 between Culebra Rd. and Bandera Rd.
(Photo by Brian Purcell)

Middle segment completed
As discussed above, challenges in obtaining right-of-way and funding stalled construction of the Culebra-Potranco segment of SH 211 for nearly two decades. With growth exploding in far western Bexar County, officials began working again in 2007 to acquire the necessary right-of-way and funding for that missing middle segment. Due to state highway funding limitations at the time, Bexar County and the Texas Transportation Commission approved a "pass-through" financing agreement in late 2009 whereby Bexar County would build the missing segment and be reimbursed by the state over several years.

While planning was underway for the middle segment, several karst species and habitat in the area were added to federal endangered species protection, and the number of protected historic properties in the area increased. This required an expanded environmental study and a realignment of portions of the route to avoid those features. That expanded study and the required engineering associated with the route adjustments, along with renewed difficulties in obtaining right-of-way, caused the planned start date to slip several times and also resulted in a narrower right-of-way being acquired for most of this segment than initially planned.

But the stars finally aligned, and finally, on November 10, 2020, a construction contract for the middle segment was awarded by Bexar County. Work began in early 2021 and the road opened to traffic on November 14, 2022.


Video of Culebra-Potranco section shortly after opening


Q: Why was the new segment built with only one lane in each direction?

A: There are several issues coming into play that drove this decision. The first is funding. When efforts restarted around 2007 to get this segment built, TxDOT had severe funding limitations and did not have the resources to build this section. To help expedite the process, Bexar County chose to take the project on under a "pass-through" funding agreement with the state, whereby the county would fund the project and the state would repay the county over several years after completion. This limited what that could reasonably be built.

The second consideration was projected traffic. For a new road, expected initial traffic volumes are generally what are used to size the inaugural road. Based on those projections, a two-lane road was stipulated by city and state standards.

Finally, as mentioned above, several environmental constraints were identified along this segment. In order to fit within those constraints and within the available budget, a smaller footprint was required.

Yes, planners understand that a two-lane roadway will likely (although not certainly) be inadequate in the not-too-distant future, but getting a corridor built and open is the first step. Then, when traffic volumes and patterns begin to materialize that can be quantified and analyzed, appropriate improvements and expansions can then be undertaken. Fortunately, after recent substantial increases in funding, TxDOT should have the resources to address those future needs. And, this also means that as new development comes online, developers will pay some of the costs for those future improvements.

Using this approach, planners don't have to guess at what might be needed and possibly waste money to build something unnecessary. Transportation planning is a bit of a chicken-and-egg exercise, and state and federal requirements to empirically justify the need for expenditures will always result in incremental and sometimes disjointed improvements. While not always ideal, this approach is necessary to safeguard appropriate stewardship of public funds and ensure a balanced approach to address the plethora of needs.

Here's an analogy that may help: If you're homeless and come into just enough money to buy a one bedroom home, do you not buy it just because you expect to have a couple of kids in a few years? Of course not. Instead, you get what you can afford now, then save up or otherwise plan how to add-on to the house when it's needed later on.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, there's a more "nuts-and-bolts" way to look at this by considering the possible traffic generators here. Doing so, we see there is a large cluster of subdivisions and some commercial destinations in the Potranco/211 area, there is a large cluster of subdivisions along Culebra inside 211, and then just about nothing in between or further north.

So let's look at Potranco first-- how many people living in that area are going to want to go north on 211? Probably just about none because there's really nothing to the north for them to want or need to go to-- no major employers, shopping, colleges, medical facilities, etc.

So then we look at how many people living in the Culebra area will want to go south. Until the HEB at Culebra and 211 is built, there may be a few who decide to go to the one at Potranco and 211 since it may be faster to get there (and maybe less crowded) than the one at Culebra and 1604. But is that enough to warrant additional lanes on 211? Almost certainly not.

There may also be some folks living along Culebra (or further north) who work in the Potranco area, say at the Citibank facility, and will use 211 to get there  Again, probably not enough to need more lanes.

The biggest cohort is probably people along Culebra (or further north) who will opt to use 211 to get to 90 to go to Lackland or downtown. But, there's no way to really know how many people will do that-- only time will tell, so they have to wait it out and see what materializes. 

Finally, yes, there is a sign announcing a planned 2,500 home subdivision (Westridge) south of Tamaron Valley, but that is several years from having a level of build-out that would appreciably impact traffic on 211. There are currently no utilities to the site, and the first homesites are not expected to be available until late 2023.

Would it have been nice to have four lanes along here? Absolutely. Would it have been nice to have a six lane freeway? Of course. Is what was built better than nothing? I guess you can decide for yourself, but IMO, this adage sums it up best: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."


New section of SH 211 between Culebra Rd. and Potranco Rd. near Tamaron Valley prior to opening
(Photo by Brian Purcell)


(SH 211 is authorized by Minute Order 88108 [November 29, 1988]. The section from SH 16 to I-10 is still authorized in that order.)


This page and all its contents are Copyright 2023 by Brian Purcell

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