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Tuesday, September 13

Loop 1604 saga's next chapter opens

Earlier this year we opened the new extension of the expressway on Loop 1604, which brought overpasses at Braun Road, New Guilbeau and at Shaenfield Road. We opened a new direct connector ramp for southbound Loop 1604 to eastbound Hwy 151, eliminating the traffic signal at Hwy 151.

Yesterday, led by Texas Transportation Commissioner J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., we broke ground on the next segment, which will add overpasses at Wiseman, Military and at Potranco. Work will begin mid-October.

The $62.5 million project is being built by the Zachry Construction Corporation, a local firm that's been busy the last few years working on some of the state's largest highway projects (most of which were in the DFW metroplex). They expect to finish the new expressway by 2019.

What it will look like
If you've not driven this area lately, today the highway is a four-lane divided highway. That means we've got two lanes in each direction (plus some operational lanes - ahem, turn lanes - at the intersections) with signals controlling traffic flow at the key intersections. When we're all done, we'll have four lanes in each direction - two express lanes and two frontage roan lanes - with those same operational lanes at the intersections.

Here's a typical section - a cross-cut look at the roadway - at the intersections:
(Click for larger view)
And here's a look at the preliminary schematic (note this may be subject to some small changes):
(Click for larger view)

It will be glorious.
A special project
Some might be looking at this project and think it's just another highway project. After all, we've got tons of them going on: four of them on I-35 just between LP 1604 and downtown on the east and northeast side; three along I-10 outside LP 1604 on the northwest side of Bexar County; another on I-10 on the east side, with another set to start soon; US 90 between I-410 and LP 1604; the intersection of I-410 and Hwy 151. There are another dozen or more tthat are smaller and just don't get much play in the media, but will quietly help improve the safety and quality of life of thousands of our fellow Spurs fans.

What makes this project stand out? Two things. First, it's a truly forward-looking project, addressing congestion issues that haven't quite reached the head we've seen on other corridors. Second, the entire project is funded by local dollars. Every. Single. Penny.

Commissioner Bugg highlighted these aspects when he said:
This is one of the fastest-growing regions of San Antonio and we’re happy to provide some congestion relief for drivers now, while the growth boom is still happening. We are happy to partner with Bexar County and VIA, who have both stepped up as funding partners, to accelerate this project. Because of their help we are able to improve the well-being, safety and quality of life for local residents now rather than waiting until the need had become overdue."

The far northwest side of San Antonio and Bexar County - that area between about Marbach and Bandera roads - has been heralded as the fastest growing portion of our metropolitan area. Bexar County officials are saying it'll be larger than the Waco metro area in the next couple of years as development continues to keep pace.

While congestion is starting to mount out there, it's not quite reached the level of stretches like US 281 or I-35. That doesn't mean it wouldn't, though. In fact, if we weren't addressing this area now it could easily vault itself to the top of our area's worst choke points.

We don't want to see that happen. Frankly, it's only with the local support we're able to keep this area under control.

Local participation
Residents of the Far Northwest should be aware of the work Bexar County, VIA and the MPO are doing to help them get around a bit better. We know it may not feel like it right now with all the construction delays you're dealing with, but the work out there is incredible.

By the way, it's the county - not TxDOT - is working to improve state roads like FM 471 (Culebra Rd) and FM 1957 (Potranco Rd). They deserve some major credit.

They've also stepped up in a big way to fund this Loop 1604 project. The county has used its portion of Advanced Tranpsortation District funds - money collected via a quarter-cent sales tax approved by Bexar County voters in 2007 - and vehicle registration fees to make this happen. TxDOT doesn't have any money tied up on this project at all, which means larger pools of state funds are available for other projects (like US 281 or I-35).

The county isn't done, by the way. They've also ponied up the cash to fund the next leg of LP 1604, which extends the expressway through US 90 and adds a direct connector from southbound LP 1604 to eastbound US 90 (like what we did at LP 1604 and Hwy 151). That project, which runs another $64.1 million, will start next year and wrap up in 2020.