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Monday, September 28

Mail Bag: Wurzbach Parkway speed limit, Wurzbach congestion, Loop 1604 northwest traffic patterns

Now that the parkway is in full operation (thank you!), a HUGE amount of traffic seems to collect at the end of the parkway at NW Military during commuting times. The lights have been adjusted though it doesn't seem to balance out with the additional traffic.
Does a long term plan to handle this additional traffic exist? If the Parkway was indeed meant to connect I-35 to I-10, shouldn't it connect us a little closer and not dumping us into Wurzbach at Military which arguably is one of the most trafficked areas of the city during rush hour?
- Joe
Will the timing of the traffic signals at Wurzbach and W. Military be adjusted for the new increase in traffic volume? Westbound Wurzbach was backed up from NW Military to almost Blanco this morning (Thursday).
- Craig
I was so pumped and excited about the opening of the Wurzbach Parkway! However, my excitement came to a crashing halt (literally) when I experienced the traffic backup at the NW Military Hwy traffic signal (Thursday morning). Due to the now-high volume of traffic traveling westbound Wurzbach Parkway, the traffic backup is so extreme, I will now have to choose an alternate route. Is there any adjustment that can be made to the signal at that intersection to make traffic flow more smoothly due to the high volume created by the opening of the westbound Wurzbach Parkway?
- Laura

The potential for gridlock on the west end of Wurzbach, where the parkway transitions to a signalized arterial route, is something we've been discussing internally for years (literally) and discussing with the good folks who will use (and now are using) the Parkway for the last several weeks.
Engineers with the city of San Antonio's Transportation and Capital Improvements division have already optimized the timing of traffic signals along this corridor to help push flow through. That optimization didn't take place until after the Thursday rush hour, though timing adjustments were indeed being made Thursday. Those adjustments will continue to be tweaked as needed to continually help the traffic flow.
What's more, the city council office and TCI have been discussing several options to help these intersections; heck, we've even committed to help through the process (to the tune of $1 million), upgrading these intersections to handle the added capacity.
Meanwhile, we're hoping folks get the message we've been trying to broadcast: when you get to Blanco Road or Northwest Military, consider heading north to Loop 1604 or south to I-410. If you really are coming all the way from the east side, these routes will help redistribute traffic and thin things out all over.
As for the intent of the roadway (Joe's question), providing an additional east-west connector besides I-410 and Loop 1604 is one of the major side-benefits to this. Keep in mind this whole thing was conceived (and started actually being built) when the city was much smaller and development along the northeast and northwest sides of town was still just starting!
The main purpose of this is as a commuter expressway - for "short trips", as the engineers would say. The idea is to connect those coming from, say, Churchill High School with areas like Blossom Athletic Center or (now) Heroes Stadium. That sort of commute is what the Parkway is truly designed for, but its existence certainly helps with the east-west movement between I-10 and I-35.
Why not go all the way to I-10 and I-35, then? Great question; the biggest reason at this point is that the ship for that has sailed long ago. Development along Wurzbach Road is pretty full, preventing any chance at reasonably building the parkway all the way to I-10 without demolishing a slew of businesses and other buildings. On the eastern end we have a similar situation where the development along I-35 prevents a reasonable location for a new access point, and existing access points are fairly well developed.
It's not a great answer, but it's the one we've got for now!

When the Parkway was first presented to the public, it was to only be 45mph and have very limited intersections. Now it will be a race track by the time it dumps on Wurzbach's 40mph at Lock Hill.
- JP

The parkway does feature a limited number of intersections - only major cross-streets. It's a "limited access" road, and we have it posted at 45 miles per hour (that's a design speed we discussed during last week's Mail Bag post).
The segment between Blanco Road and Northwest Military features a lower speed limit than you see on the segments more closely mimicking expressway lanes on the far eastern segments, and between Northwest Military and Lockhill Selma the speed limit drops a bit more. The idea is to ease in and out of the area to which you've referred and prevent a "race track" from happening.
We have a lot of folks expressing a desire to raise the 45mph speed limits, which is subject to speed studies. Those studies are already being lined up by TxDOT traffic operations staff.

Would it be possible to get a temporary light set up at Liberty Field and 1604? The traffic at this intersection is horrible in the mornings! And back tracking to Shaenfield and 1604 isn't much better! Its taken me anywhere from 10 minutes to almost 30 minutes just to get onto 1604.
- Wayne

The short answer is a simple "no", but that doesn't come callous. We've discussed the issue before, several times.
To be fair, we have several folks here at TxDOT driving through this area regularly, including the primary contributor of the blog here. Call us up at any time and commiserate about the traffic!
Based on personal experiences, then, leaving the Bridgewood subdivision during peak hours ranges between 8 and 18 minutes, depending on the route you take and the nature of the day. Wet days (when we get overnight rain) tend to be worse than dry ones.
Leaving through Shaenfield, by the way, carries a solid average of 13 minutes. This is through several samples. Liberty Field and Oscar Wood are right at about the same. Both seem to naturally flow 4-5 cars through when a break on the southbound lanes thanks to the signal at Shaenfield.
At any rate, the reason for no signal at Liberty Field (or Oscar Wood, or Creston Gate, or Tausch Drive, or Leslie Road, or Bowens Crossing...) is the final configuration. The current temporary signals in place along this route are an extension of permanent signals at Shaenfield and at New Guilbeau; we aren't going to have signals at these other intersections long-term. In fact, come summer 2016, the whole issue will be moot.
To construct signals - even temporary ones - at these locations would increase the cost of the project by about an extra $1 million (not including costs to keep the signals on and running), add a lot more work at these intersections (right now we're pretty much finished at these locations) and create more stopping points for the 80,000 cars that move through the route every day. Congestion along Loop 1604 would become gridlock, and the whole scenario would get a whole lot worse than it is right now.
Sound apocalyptic? Perhaps. These scenarios are actually played through some computer programs to simulate traffic patterns and impacts made by various items. This has been considered and modeled, and the outcome was pretty well disastrous.
So the best advice is to be patient - it's what we're doing. The project is moving along much faster than had been anticipated, and provided we have continued favorable weather and other major issues don't spring up, we should have traffic on the main lanes of Loop 1604 by summer 2016.

Regarding "Loop 1604 Northwest" is there an anticipated date when the New Guilbeau turn lanes will open up again? I realize the overpasses will not be completed (to drive on) until late 2016, just curious if the timelines are linked.
Thank you!
By the way, I'm in awe of how quickly the contractors are working! They seem so efficient!
- Hannah

Well this is as fantastic a question as could be asked - one we hadn't thought through on the communications and outreach end of things!
The intersection has to be opened up in order to take out the temporary u-turns, which would need to be obliterated in order to finish the main lanes and open up the overpasses....
All this suggests that, yes, the turns at New Guilbeau (and at Shaenfield!) will open before the bridges are completely finished up. All the overhead work will be finished, of course - including all the beams and panels getting set and the concrete being poured. Then the road extension for the intersection itself will need to be built (that's lacking at the moment).
Based on what we are hearing from our consultant managing the project, we could see the intersection at New Guilbeau reopened early 2016.

Why was the timing of the signal lights at Boerne Stage Rd. and the westbound I-10 frontage road in Leon Springs changed? This was a huge issue when the project first started, but was adjusted and really improved traffic flow. Between September 21-22 the timing was changed and now traffic is horrible. On Boerne Stage Road the light on the east side of the I-10 underpass allows no more than 3-4 cars through for each green light. It's beyond ridiculous and needs to be rectified as soon as possible. I sat through 9 light changes after crossing the eastbound frontage road (in front of HEB) before finally being able to make the left turn onto the westbound frontage road by Rudy's.
- Matthew

A lot of the timing issues out there are associated with the new signal on Boerne Stage Road at HEB - not a signal on the I-10 frontage roads. That said, we'll check out what's going on and see if we can get things fixed back up for you!

We came across a sign at the intersection of Wurzbach Parkway and West Avenue that says "1502 PA". What does that stand for and does it apply to all of Wurzbach Parkway? Thank you.
- Lars

Lars, you're the second person since the start of summer who has asked about the PA 1502 issue. The last time was in one of our very first Mail Bag posts! And yes, this does apply to all of Wurzbach Parkway (between Wiedner Road and Northwest Military Highway).
Here's what we said then:
There's a really quick way to answer this one ... and since it's asked often, it's worth adding here: PA is TxDOT-ese for "Parkway". For Wurzbach Parkway, the state highway designation is "Parkway 1502".
In Texas, we use a number of state highway designations. We have the Interstate highways (NOT Interstate Highways - note the difference in capitalization!) like I-10, I-35, I-37, I-410 (Also note ... NOT "IH Whatever" ... Just a simple "I-" before the number!). We have U.S. Highways (like 281, 90, 87). We have Texas Highways (like 46 and 16). We have State Loops (like Loop 1604). We have State Spurs (like Spur 53, Spur 536 and Spur 371). We have Farm-to-Market (FM) roads, and we have Ranch-to-Market (RM) roads.
By the way ... the difference between the FM and RM designation is all geography. Generally speaking, west of U.S. 281 in our state, the roads are RM roads. East of U.S. 281, the roads are FM roads.
Each of these roads is owned, developed and maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation. If a road doesn't have one of these state highway designations, it's probably not maintained by us in any way.