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Thursday, March 16

Mail Bag: driver responsibility, crash cushions, lane restrictions, I-410 work

So ... we've not done a Mail Bag post in a while, so we've got a lot of questions to go through. This is the first of two installments, which will all publish in the next week.

There seems to have been some lane changes on the I-410 S access road at Vista West Dr. It's gone down to one lane which is causing significant traffic backups in the morning. Is this temporary?
- Mike

So, the single lane is temporary while we've got construction going on right there (more in a moment). One thing that's not temporary is the elimination of the redundancy with the Lakeside Parkway exit (from which you couldn't really even reach Lakeside Parkway) and the Marbach exit.
The work is a major "operational improvement" (engineerese for "we're changing the way things work...") along I-410 between US 90 and Hwy 151. That work started with the new year this year (ahem, that's 2017) and will take about two and a half years to finish.
When we're all done you'll have a new lane in each direction on the I-410 main lanes between Hwy 151 and US 90. You'll have reconfigured exit and entrance ramps to allow a more fluid traffic flow along the corridor, which means the frontage roads are being adjusted. Oh, and we're making sure the curbs and sidewalks along these frontage roads are just right.
The cherry on top? New direct connectors at US 90, moving eastbound traffic on US 90 to northbound I-410 and southbound traffic from I-410 to westbound US 90. That means if you're commute goes between, say, Castroville and the Crossroads area ... it'll get a lot nicer when we're all done (at the end of 2019).

The I-10 westbound access road between Dominion Drive and Boerne Stage Road looks almost complete. Can you tell us when this access road will open both lanes?
By now, Robert, you know we have things opened up to two lanes. We've posted on this a bit more earlier this month (you've likely seen it by now), but the bottom line is we'll have traffic in its final configuration by the first week of April. That's still on schedule, by the way!

I have two concerns. My first is about the intersection of the frontage roads of Loop 1604 and I-10. I've almost been hit multiple times as drivers get into the turn lane for the Top Golf entrance, disregard the pavement markings and continue straight to get to the I-10 frontage. The current markings aren't working, so I'm now avoiding the area. My second is about the park-and-ride at I-35 and Shin Oak. Apparently it has turned into a park-and-stay for 18-wheelers. This looks horrible and seems to have discouraged the few people who were actually using it as designed from doing so. Many years ago there used to be a sign that said "No Overnight Parking" there. What can be done about these two concerns?
- Steven

So ... it seems we have a law enforcement issue with the traffic ignoring the regulatory lane markers. We've been through a slew of different ideas with this area (the Top Golf driveway...), and right now we've done all we can feasibly do. The next steps require some serious concessions from the property owners we're unlikely to get - like permission to permanently close the driveway altogether.
As for the park-and-ride issue, this is a problem that occurs at every park-and-ride we have in the region. Heck, some folks have been known to park their cars and post them for sale at these lots, which we had to remedy by threatening folks to tow their cars. We're getting with our maintenance folks to try and re-post those signs if possible - it may help a little.

I've noticed that the collapsible guardrail end cap at the northbound Loop 1604 exit to Bandera is continually destroyed, fixed, and then smashed again. Is there any plan to smooth out or widen that area so that cars are not pointed directly at the barrier end cap when they exit? It seems like the exit angle is too tight or at least tighter than what people anticipate. It might just take a re-stripe of the area to flatten out the exit curve a bit. It's scary to take that exit if you're not anticipating being pointed directly at the barrier end cap. It feels like an emergency evasive maneuver to not hit it.
- Bob

This is a problem we're having at multiple locations - people keep forgetting to keep their vehicle between the lines and end up running into these crash cushions. We are repairing them constantly all over the region; it's not just at this location.
The major crashes we've seen at this location all involve failure to control speed (certainly that was the case with the first major crash on this ramp) and a failure to maintain proper attention. That means folks are distracted.
Certainly a crash cushion can sneak up on a driver when their eyes aren't on the road - and that's what's happening here, Bob. Folks simply aren't paying attention to driving. The motorized vehicle is the single deadliest weapon in America, and folks don't pay attention to what they're doing while wielding it. Scary!

Any update on what defines a "truck", in reference to the "No Trucks Left Lane" signs? I noticed that the regulation's language permits trucks to use the left lane for passing; if that is true, it almost makes that statute redundantly unnecessary since the left lane (for passenger cars and trucks) is for passing only anyways.
- Mark

Well, short of going to law school for this one, we've done a little digging and come up with better information than the last time we get on this topic. Here goes....
The definition of "truck" according to Texas Transportation Code is a motor vehicle that's designed and operated to transport property. If you want to read it on your own, look for Texas Code 541.001(21) here. Further definition of a "truck" for these restrictions typically does include a requirement of three or more axles - see the first paragraph of this TTC Minute Order from Hill County in 2012 for an example. You'll note the reference to "truck tractors", which is defined in section 22 of 541.001 referenced above.
While that minute order pertains to somewhere that's not San Antonio, the Texas Highwayman shows the history of the left-lane restrictions locally (which, by the way, began back in 2004).
The legal result? An emphasis on getting trucks out of the left lane with stiffer penalties. You're absolutely right about the left lane for the rest of us - it's really designed for passing only (note to you who like to hang out in the left lane ... you're doing it wrong). This whole "no trucks" thing simply adds extra teeth for those big wheelers.

I heard about a 3-car accident at westbound 1604 and Stone Oak, just before the exit to Blanco, on the news this morning and it reminded me of other major accident crashes at that location due to the merging traffic. I drive through there everyday and it always seems that something happens probably once every 2 weeks or so (probably more often than that), and I see y'all replacing the damaged guardrails probably once a month at that location. Forgive me, but it seems like a waste of money to keep repeatedly replacing the guardrails that often. I'm just curious if y'all had noticed that's an emerging trouble spot due to the recently constructed ramps, and was wondering if you had any thoughts on that, and if TxDOT (or the city) have any future plan of action?
- Mike

To be completely honest, Mike, the best plan of action is to ask drivers to follow those basic driving principles we all learn in drivers' education as new drivers - but somehow forget with experience.
The problem isn't highway design, it's rude and poor driving habits. As you'll note, Mike, we have other locations where these guardrails and crash cushions are being repaired on the regular. Heck, we have crews repairing these safety features at some location in our city pretty much every day.
That's unacceptable. For us, we're focused on what we call "vision zero". This is a collaborative effort with the city of San Antonio to help make our multimodal transportation routes as safe as possible. It's not something we can do on our own, though. Ultimately driver responsibility has to enter.
That's why you won't hear us referring to these collisions as "accidents" - because they're not an accident. Safety is no accident, Mike. It's very deliberate.
These crashes occur because a driver is being negligent. They are failing to control speed, driving while distracted or driving while intoxicated. They are being rude and following too closely, failing to yield or failing to merge properly. They don't signal. They ignore the world around them and just do them ... and that selfish driving behavior is killing folks.
We will continue to design safe roads and post the "instructions" of safe use everywhere. But we need drivers who won't ignore these instructions to keep the facilities safe.