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Saturday, August 20

Back to school - you have your route planned?

Monday marks the first day back to school for most of the schools in the San Antonio area - at least, for the schools that didn't give us a sneak-peak at the new year by starting up last week.

While everyone has their first outfits picked out, a plan for that back-to-school photo opp in mind and backpacks filled with the latest in school supply fashion ... well, who's got their route to school already mapped out?

With this in mind, we've got three major things to keep in mind Monday when everyone gets going back to school.

Traffic is going to naturally increase - substantially
The first week of school is always hectic, and yet we all seem to be caught by surprise when our daily commutes increase - sometimes even double - when the kids head back to school.
Remember: this back-to-school thing impacts all drivers. When you're mad at the world for the way traffic moves Monday keep in mind that, after about a week, things do get better and everyone gets into a better routine.
Also, keep in mind the strong chance of rain Monday morning ... that won't help matters much. Just to be safe, plan to double your commute times. Worst-case scenario you're early to wherever you're headed Monday morning and you impress someone.

Back-to-school is more than just the elementary and high schools
UTSA, UIW and Trinity U all start classes this week. So do the Alamo Colleges. St. Mary's started up last week. This should add some pressure to traffic around these campuses and will mean an increase in teen drivers out there during peak traffic hours. It also will bring a heavy spike in foot/bike/skateboard traffic.
Speaking of foot traffic ... one thing to be especially aware of is how unaware pedestrians can be. This does not excuse the inattention one iota, but cars should be wary of school-goers busy chatting to catch up with old friends or lost in the digital world of their portable devices.
And don't forget about the craze that started up this summer that's nearly guaranteed to grab the focus of those walking to school next week: PokemonGo! will likely have a slew of PokeStops (we don't know what those are either, had to look them up) grabbing some attention.
If you're muttering something about how these kids ought to pay attention between thoughts of when you were a kid you walked uphill to school - both ways - in weather that was either 112 degrees and as dry as the Mojave or was -348 degrees with snow to your eyeballs, you're absolutely right. However, the law forbids cell phone use by drivers in a school zone. It doesn't prohibit pedestrians from using portable devices.
Just something to keep in mind. Above all, just be aware of what's happening and pay extra attention.

Construction zones should be kept in mind
We have a slew of areas impacted by TxDOT-related projects that are ongoing, and some of these may have an impact on your route to school. Be aware we are only privy to the projects on TxDOT-maintained roads. The city and the county have several projects ongoing, and these will no doubt impact your drive as well.
From our end, though, here's a list of highlights to be aware of:

  • Leon Springs area. The work between Boerne Stage and Ralph Fair is ongoing, and the old bridge over Leon Creek converted to one-way back in February so Texas Sterling Construction could rebuild it hasn't yet been complete. That means we are still down to one single lane, one-way, with school starting up. Folks headed to Leon Springs Elementary School will need to find another way into Leon Springs than cutting between Aue Road and Boerne Stage Road right there. The good news: the bridge is on pace to wrap up by October. Yes, we're aware that's about three months later than we had said we'd be back in  May. We're working on it (more on this issue in a later post).
  • Loop 1604 at Hwy 151. The big change with the direct connector from southbound Lp 1604 and eastbound Hwy 151, coupled with the shift of traffic from Alamo Ranch Parkway and Culebra Road to Hwy 151 going through the Wiseman intersection for now, will no doubt contribute to headaches for morning commuters. Those who make plans accordingly will be the winners of the traffic game next week.
  • I-35 between Rittiman and Walzem. Not long ago we shifted some of the ramps through the area, opening some new ramps and closing down some old ones. This area is sticky to begin with; add the school traffic for the NEISD schools in the region, and this area is sure to take plenty of extra time.
  • Potranco Road (FM 1957) between Lp 1604 and Hwy 211. This isn't even a TxDOT project, actually. Bexar County Public Works is running this job. But it did start over the summer, and it's not handled a school day yet. Expect some delays while folks get used to how it operates.
  • Culebra Road (FM 471) between FM 1560 and Tally Road. Another Bexar County project, this one started up earlier this month and hasn't even reached full-steam. Culebra backs up plenty to start with on its own; add in the construction and the school traffic, there will be plenty of hollering within vehicles. Just remember to play nice when you're out there.
The bottom line
No matter what, there's a bottom line here. And if you skimmed through the post and only get one thing, let this be it:
Plan ahead and add extra time to your commute next week. It's going to take more time than normal. Just know that and you'll be fine.
Put the phone away and drive. It's a drivers seat, not a phone-talker's seat. Pay extra attention around schools and everyone will be able to stay safe!