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Thursday, November 10

Loop 1604 NW: Past, present and future

Several weeks ago we got a very long, very carefully thought-out message from an individual who uses Loop 1604 between Culebra Road and I-10 on a regular basis. Well, for whatever reason that note had been pushed back quite a bit and deserves some real discussion - particularly since others have asked a lot of similar questions.

Hi, with the work done on the new 1604 modifications from Bandera down to Culebra, traffic has improved greatly going down toward Hwy 151. No more morning backups. Sadly, the traffic going towards UTSA on Loop 1604 appears to have become worse. The highway will back up clear back past the Braun exit each morning, then trickles down to the service road which was been ugly from Bandera on for a long time. Now the service road is backing up between Braun and Bandera now while the highway is gridlocked.
People are now getting desperate and cutting through the shopping centers and taking any path they can to avoid the backups or to cut down the line where possible. In the evening you can see gridlock situations going from Babcock down to Bandera. It seems like the growth has out lived the design of the Loop 1604 configuration in place today.
Is there a plan in the works to address this?
I also wanted to thank the team for the great work done to get the overpasses and service roads completed between Bandera and Culebra. Sadly, people are blowing down these roadways at far more than the speed limits. We get passed every day by 98% of the vehicles driving on the service roads and the highway too like we're standing still. I know the lower speeds were put into place for safety due to upcoming work and growth in this area, but it creates a dangerous condition for those that are observing the speed limits in place. I've seen a few police in the area, but it isn't enough to deter these folks that want to fly through here like they are in the Indy 500. My family and I were almost taken out by a rock hauler blowing down the service road. It is pretty dangerous as it stands right now. I don't want a ticket for speeding nor do I want my family and I to be killed by these people far faster than the 40/60 setup today.
- Rick

Rick, we feel you. You've got a few major issues to address here. We're gonna do our best to give the best answers we've got.

Speed limits
The current speed limits reflect a couple of things. The first is the old speed limit on the road, way back when this stretch of Loop 1604 (Bandera to Culebra) was a superstreet. It also matches the initial design speed - the speed that matches what our design manuals say we need to set a roadway at when it's built.
(Note: "Design Speed" is a misleading label; while it's the speed the road was "designed for", most of our roads remain safe at speeds a bit higher than the listed design speed.)
We've already looked at this stretch and are in the process of updating the speed limits - a process that requires some time and some action from the Texas Transportation Commission. If you're among the super-curious, here's a great resource on how we determine the posted speed limits.
The bottom line: we're working on it. We don't have a firm timeline on when we could have these speed limits updated, but it should be right about the turn of the new year.

New congestion issues
Interestingly, the congestion on Lp 1604 isn't actually adding more time to commutes than what was taken before. The time spent backed up at New Guilbeau and Braun roads is now spent on the main lanes, providing a bit of an illusion that it's a longer commute. In the past, those signals at New Guilbeau and Braun metered traffic to the main lanes a bit.
However, we are seeing some small upticks in traffic volume during peak hours. What's happening is folks that were on FM 1560 are now on Loop 1604. Why? Well, with the main lanes of Lp 1604 opened up, it's now a little faster to scoot from the area of Culebra to Bandera along those main lanes than it would be to use FM 1560.
For now, at least.

Future development
The short answer here is we don't have anything in the immediate future that will address these issues. What really needs to happen is an upgrade to the interchange at I-10 and Lp 1604, where the bulk of the morning backup is coming from. Well, that's something we're working with the MPO to find a good plan for; the most recent plans for an upgrade of the interchange (they come with a price tag of about half a billion dollars for a full interchange) would involve managed lanes.
We're still working on a plan, though.
We are also aware of the need for added capacity to Loop 1604 between Bandera Road and ... well, I-35, really. That's a whole other ball of wax, but we're working on it.
Both of these issues are considered in the MPO's Transportation Improvement Program. If you look at the spreadsheet, you'll note we have one portion of the connectors planned for fiscal year 2017 and an expansion of Lp 1604 planned for fiscal year 2020. Those funds haven't been identified nor secured, though, so at this point these are placeholders.
One idea we're trying to find some traction for in the interim is what engineers call "operational improvements". That is, we can move some of the exit and entrance ramps along Loop 1604 to promote a better flow of traffic. Yes, this means we'd see folks exiting onto frontage roads, re-entering, then exiting again. That's called queue hopping. The practice may aggravate some, but it's actually helpful to the system.
It would also help for traffic going westbound at night - that's the traffic backing up as it heads to Bandera Road. If that exit and the on-ramp from Hausman were swapped, we might see some huge improvements to traffic flow at night. The challenge would be designing it appropriately and within financial constraints - determining whether we need to add an auxiliary lane to the overpasses or not, that kind of thing - before really getting to sink our teeth into it.
For now, nothing is funded and we've not been given this as a priority from the MPO, so we've not got a plan to present. Just a lot of ideas we're fleshing through.