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Wednesday, February 24

Leon Springs area - what's happening now and why

More than a little fracas has been raised by residents asking why the frontage road between Boerne Stage Road and Aue Road has been limited to one-way traffic. So many questions have been asked it's nearly impossible to address them all, but we're going to try. We've also got a slew of phone calls to return on this matter; we're getting there. If you're waiting on a call from us, know that it's coming and we look forward to discussing the issue in-depth and (somewhat) in person.

First, a look at what's going on with the project - that is, where we're at now and where we're going from here. In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words (click on the picture to enlarge):

In the interest of those needing a bit of an explanation (we certainly did when we saw the original version of the above graphic), here's some wordsmithing of the details:

Green parts are the easiest to describe, and have the most definite timeline. Simply put, the frontage roads marked in green will be one-way (permanently), and we're opening up the new lanes of Boerne Stage Road under the I-10 overpass so traffic will have two lanes in each direction. We'll also open up the new turnarounds at Boerne Stage Road and at Dominion Drive. Last item: the new traffic signals at Dominion Drive and at the new frontage road location at Boerne Stage Road will be activated.

When will all this happen? Current schedules show somewhere around St. Patty's day, but weather may push that back a few days. Bottom line: we'll have it all running late March.

Now for the more complex items (which are source of more questions) - the red areas. These are our high-priority work areas on this project. Let's go through each of the three one-by-one.

Red area one: the new ramps near Fralo's along the westbound frontage road and main lanes. The new westbound exit ramp to Leon Springs and Boerne Stage Road will be built to have the green areas opened up. This will allow crews to close the current exit ramp so the frontage road connection may be built and a new westbound entrance ramp from Dominion Drive can be finished and open up. All this will start once the green areas are put into play. The nature of this work could mean a pretty quick turnaround time, depending on the weather. Best-case scenario is to have this area all rebuilt by early May.

Here's the deal, though: if you're headed to or from Leon Springs, you won't feel much impact by this work. You'll have an exit ramp in play already, and you'll be able to use the frontage road connector if you're headed eastbound from Leon Springs. This really will have the heaviest impact on folks coming from Dominion and headed to Boerne, though their trips won't have really changed all that much from what things are today.

Red area two: the eastbound frontage road bridge over Leon Creek. This bridge was cut down to a single lane to be rebuilt. This reconstruction is being done one half at a time. This is out-of-sequence work the contractor has been working on while waiting for some issues with utilities in other areas to be wrapped up. With those utility conflicts being resolved, some of the labor forces have been moved and assets have been redistributed. With the green area in play, this will be a major area of focus. With dirt crews working hard on red area one, concrete and bridge crews can focus on this (and the other) bridge. This bridge is one of the biggest reasons the eastbound frontage road is trimmed to a single lane. Because we're wanting to open up that eastbound frontage road as quick as possible, we're trying to accelerate this work to be finished up late April or early May.

Red area three: the bridge over Leon Creek between Boerne Stage and Aue roads. This is the area that's getting us the highest volume of calls. We're even getting comments via Facebook and Twitter. We're trying to solve the issue and have indeed considered a number of factors - including the majority of ideas presented via social media.

Like red area two, we're rebuilding the bridge in halves. That means we only have space for one lane - which means one-way traffic is an absolute necessity. Heck, we just can't fit two lanes of traffic on the bridge to make it two-way. This is a temporary solution, and when we're finished (mid-summer, as early as June) we'll get things back to two way.

Two major questions have arisen about this bridge and the resultant traffic control: Why not wait until summer, when trips to Leon Springs Elementary aren't a factor? Why not wait until the eastbound frontage road is opened up and at full capacity?

Well, we did consider waiting until June. Unfortunately that would mean delaying overall project completion several months - and our priority is finishing this project as quickly as we can (it is running a few weeks behind due to the abundant utility conflicts we've encountered) and causing further delays, which would make costs on the project jump quite a bit, was simply not an option for us. We'd also likely see work creep into the school year, so the impact on school traffic would still exist anyway.

As for waiting for the eastbound frontage road to be opened, we ran up against similar issues - overall project delays. The simple truth is the way things are working right now actually allows this work to be done even faster. Having both bridges underway allows Texas Sterling Construction to employ more resources - they're pulling from the same pool to accomplish the tasks. As schedulers ensure concrete pours and steel deliveries coincide, the work is actually pushed a little faster down the line. What's more, we see a slight cost savings as larger loads and orders are brought to the job site.

That said, we have an issue with a water line owned by SAWS at this bridge location that's kept us from knocking anything else to get to work. This SAWS impact may cause us to rethink our schedules and make some changes - but, again, we're talking about an option that could lead to overall project delays (which we're trying to avoid).

The good news, either way, is the conversion of frontage roads to one-way between Boerne Stage Road and Dominion Drive will help the situation for eastbound traffic approaching Boerne Stage. It won't fix the problem, but it will help tremendously. The signals at Boerne Stage will be re-timed to reflect the diminished operations - that is, there's one fewer direction of traffic to deal with, which means an increase in green time for that eastbound frontage road and a shorter wait on red. Again it's not a full-on fix, but it will help.
We are considering other options to give some relief in the area, especially as the new eastbound entrance ramp from Ralph Fair is opened up. This may provide us with some new options and provide a little extra help.

The yellow areas show work items we'll work on as we have available crews - this work will primarily be done over the summer months, so don't expect to see too much of this work going before school lets out. Once it does start (some preliminary work on the yellow areas along the eastbound frontage road and main lanes between Boerne Stage Road and Dominion Drive is already done), the overall duration of work should only be a matter of weeks at each location.