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Tuesday, April 4

US 281 officially on the clock

So ... yesterday was Opening Day for Major League Baseball (which some on our staff insist should be a Federal holiday, but that's another discussion for a different blog altogether).
Opening Day is about a number of things in baseball, including a newfound feeling of hope - even for those who cheer on teams who fared incredibly poorly the prior year. Like the Boston Red Sox, who went from among worst in the league in 2012 to World Series champs in 2013).
Friday marked an Opening Day of sorts for us here at TxDOT; we're hoping to help US 281 go from worst traffic in the San Antonio region in 2015 to one of the region's better-flowing corridors come 2020. That starts with a heck of a plan and project.
We aren't looking for a flash in a pan (the Sox haven't been back to the World Series since 2013...); we want to build something lasting. That takes some work, and a little patience.
But we're burying the lede here, aren't we? Here's what happened:

Groundbreaking event
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Transportation Commissioner J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., hosted members of the state legislature and officials from Bexar County, city of San Antonio and VIA Metropolitan Transit to break ground on an expansion of US Hwy 281 that will help reduce congestion for motorists in the northern reaches of the city.
That event happened Friday morning (March 31) at 10:30, right by the new VIA transit hub near Stone Oak Parkway currently under construction that will connect to a portion of the US 281 expansion.
"For 100 years, the Texas Department of Transportation has built and maintained our roads and highways, providing a safe transportation system that has helped the Texas economy grow," said Governor Abbott. "It is because of the success we have had in bringing jobs and new business to Texas that unprecedented growth has caused unprecedented congestion, making the expansion of Highway 281 so important. The voters made clear this is their priority, and I am confident TxDOT will deliver results in the form of reduced congestion."
That growth Abbot discussed is unprecedented. We're adding nearly 1,500 people every day to the state of Texas, and that growth translates to about 150 new cars in San Antonio alone every day. Because of this growth and the need for more vehicles, Abbott created the Texas Clear Lanes initiative in 2015. This task force is led by Bugg, who is not just a Texas Transportation Commissioner ... he's a San Antonio resident as well.
"The approval of Proposition 7 by 83 percent of Texas voters in 2015 and the Texas Clear Lanes initiative have allowed both phases of the US 281 expansion to move forward without tolls," Bugg said. "After years of planning by local and state leaders, the new funding has made this critical project a reality."

The project - fast facts
For those who just want a quick run-down of what's happening, here are the highlights:
  • We're finishing the interchange of Loop 1604 and US 281, constructing the four remaining direct connectors.
  • We're adding two new express lanes in each direction between Loop 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway with overpasses at Redland Road, Encino Rio, Evans Road and Stone Oak Parkway.
  • We're adding one non-tolled HOV lane in each direction between Loop 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway; these lanes will follow the path of the free, non-tolled express lanes.
  • Work will actually begin in May, and the project should wrap up late 2020.
  • Webber Construction won the contract to build this highway with a bid of $192.3 million.
How it will impact your drive
So ... driving through construction is rarely pleasant. We get it. We do our best to make it hurt as little as possible. To do that here we're committed to continue the same level of service you're currently getting on US 281 today. That includes keeping the superstreet intact until we're ready to move traffic onto the overpasses.
The superstreet has reduced congestion levels along the US 281 corridor by more than 45 percent over the alternative of not doing anything. It's been an effective stopgap. Those who drive the corridor daily - all 100,000 of you - know well the superstreet has reached its limit. (That's kind of why we're doing this project....)
The work we need to do between Sonterra and Loop 1604 to build the new connectors north of Loop 1604 will create some significant traffic snarls and could close some of the routes a few of you take on a daily basis. That means a ramp closing for a few months, particularly with the southbound side as it goes between Sonterra and Loop 1604. When that happens we'll let you know so you can prepare and discover new routes in advance.
We'll have overnight closures from time to time, and the occasional weekend-long closure that will disrupt pretty much everything as we build the new direct connectors. Again, we'll make sure everyone has an idea of what's going on there well in advance.
For the most part, though, work will be done without major closures. You'll move through the corridor about the same way you do right now - with pretty close to the same travel times.

Final product
If a picture is worth a thousand words, we wonder how many a video would be worth. With that in mind, take a look at the visualization of what we'll have when we're all done. Pay attention to the ramp alignment (the super X configuration) allowing a smoother traffic flow, and the connector from the HOV lanes into the new VIA station at Stone Oak Parkway.

We're not done
You'll notice this work - this phase, really - ends just beyond Stone Oak Parkway. Well, we're not done with that. We're working to get started on the segment between Stone Oak Parkway and the Bexar-Comal county line as well. That's set to kick off 2019 and will take about three years to finish.