Why haven’t they widened Loop 1604?

A sign on Loop 1604 in 1983 – It’s just true today as it was then!

One of the biggest gripes among San Antonio drivers is that Loop 1604 North, from roughly Bandera Rd. to I-35 on the northeast side, is still just two lanes each way and, as a result, is often congested.  It may seem like TxDOT isn’t doing anything about it, but that’s not the case.  An expansion of 1604 has been in the works since the last millennium, but has gotten sidetracked for several reasons over the years.  Fortunately, there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

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21 Sep 2010, 10:04pm
Commuting Passenger rail Roads Safety Toll roads Travel:
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Comments Off on Big plans for Texas’ worst highway (including tolls and rail)

Big plans for Texas’ worst highway (including tolls and rail)

Planners and pundits have long decried Interstate 35 as Texas’ worst highway.

MY 35 segment_map

Notorious traffic backups and numerous crashes on I-35, especially on the stretch from San Antonio to Austin, have spawned big-ticket projects such as the SH 130 tollway and Lone Star commuter rail. Putting two and two together from such thinking eventually led to the now supposedly defunct Trans Texas Corridor.

But more big plans are in the making.

Four committees, each looking at a segment of I-35, are holding public meetings this month to wrap up draft plans on what to do with the highway, its feeders and parallel roads. Billions of dollars worth of projects are eyed, including this for South and Central Texas:

  • Convert one I-35 lane each way into toll/carpool lanes from Buda to Georgetown
  • Remove tolls and widen SH 130 to six lanes from Seguin to Georgetown
  • Build high-speed passenger rail from San Antonio to Dallas
  • Build passenger rail from San Antonio to Laredo
  • Widen I-35 from San Antonio to Laredo

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AGUA files suit to stop 281/1604 interchange

In what really isn’t a surprise (at least to me), the enviro-wackos at Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) have filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the planned US 281/Loop 1604 interchange project, which would build the first four direct connectors at that intersection.  According to an early Express-News report, AGUA claims that the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) didn’t kowtow to their demands, so they had no choice but to file a lawsuit.

Whatever. 

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Terri vs Bruce

Bruce Davidson, one of members of the Express-News’ editorial board, wrote a spot-on editorial in yesterday’s paper about how the root cause of toll roads is the Legislature’s and Governor’s resistance to increasing the gas tax.  His editorial essentially says not to blame the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) because they’re just playing the hand they’ve been dealt and that, in reality, they are working to find funding for 281 and other projects “wherever they can get it.”

Of course, the response out of southern Comal County was nearly instantaneous.  more »

Latest US 281 public meeting tomorrow

Artist's rendering of possible elevated expressway at 281 and Evans

Artist's rendering of possible elevated expressway at 281 and Evans

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority will be holding the third public meeting on its Environmental Impact Statement for the US 281 North corridor tomorrow evening (Thursday).  This meeting will allow ARMA to share the latest status of the study and get input from the public on the remaining proposals.  The process has whittled-down the list of options to three viable proposals:

  • Overpasses: This would build overpasses on US 281 at major intersections.  This proposal provides the least increase in capacity but has the lowest cost.  However, as a toll-free option, funding would need to be found.  Also, because the overpasses would increase travel speeds, many side streets and driveways would possibly need to be eliminated for safety and operational reasons.
  • Expressway: This option would build a conventional expressway with six to eight main lanes and six lanes of frontage roads.  The new expressway main lanes could be toll-free, tolled, or managed.
  • Elevated expressway: This proposal would leave the existing 281 mostly in place as-is and would build four to six elevated expressway lanes above the existing lanes.  South of Stone Oak, the elevated lanes would be on each side of 281, much like the double-decked expressways downtown; north of Stone Oak, the elevated lanes would run along the west side of the existing lanes.  Access ramps connecting to the existing 281 would be provided at strategic locations.  Just as with the conventional expressway option, the new elevated lanes could be toll-free, tolled, or managed.

In addition, any final proposal will also consider bus and park & ride facilities, pedestrian and bike improvements, growth and demand management, and Intelligent Transportation Systems (e.g. TransGuide).  All of the options also consider reserving an envelope for a future high-capacity transit option, such as HOV lanes or light-rail.  One option that had been carried forward previously– the overpasses coupled with additional expansions of Blanco and Bulverde Roads– is recommended to be dropped because of a number of factors.

Each of the options to be carried-forward has strengths and weaknesses.  The next phase of the study will further analyze each to determine which has the most pros and least cons.

The meeting will begin with an open house from 5:30-7pm, followed by a presentation from 7-7:30 and small breakout group sessions thereafter.  It will take place at the Summit Christian Center at 2575 Marshall Road (the same place where the Super Street meeting was held last year.)  More information, including advance copies of the presentation and a map of the meeting location, is available here.

What’s in store for your Loop 1604 commute?

People mill about at a meeting for Loop 1604

People mill about at a meeting earlier tonight for Loop 1604

Here’s the gist of what’s being laid out, in a series of public meetings wrapping up tonight, for Loop 1604’s future.

The problem, officials say, is that traffic demand in 25 years will be twice as much as what can fit on the highway today. The lanes can currently handle about 80,000 vehicles a day, but demand is 110,000 now and will surge to 155,000 by 2035.

An environmental study is sizing up impacts of three basic strategies:

Buses and passenger rail. At best, this can meet 15 percent of demand when you consider that top-notch transit cities such as San Francisco, Washington and Boston snare about that much of the trips in those cities.  

Managing and improving traffic flows. This is done with engineering, like the super street idea, and behavior incentives that range from carpooling to staggered work hours and telecommuting. California enacted laws requiring large employers to use such commuting strategies but cut traffic just 3 percent.

Adding four lanes to the highway. Since each lane can handle about 20,000 vehicles a day, that would do the trick.

So you can see where the math leads. 

However, a dozen various community criteria will also drive decisions, and that produces a little more mix into the approaches.

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Massive Loop 1604 study goes back to the public

Loop 1604 study map

The top ideas on how to add lanes to almost half of Loop 1604 will be laid out in a series of three public meetings this week so officials can get input.

With gas taxes strangled by decades of inflation, diversions and political inaction, toll fees and toll-backed bonds have emerged as a primary path to get some things done on the 37-mile stretch of highway. 

A previous study was derailed in 2008 after toll opponents and environmental activists filed a lawsuit in a federal court. The lawsuit in part called for Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 to be studied together, since they would have been part of an interrelated tollway system, and the judge seemed to agree.  

For this week’s meetings, study officials will provide several short presentations each night, from 6 to 8:30 p.m.:

For more information or help, start out at More for 1604’s event page.

Other links:

No takers on US 281 comparison study

After last October’s contentious MPO meeting where a motion to remove all toll options for US 281 and Loop 1604 was voted down, MPO policy board members voted to have a study done comparing the toll and non-toll options for 281. 

Nobody wanted the job.

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28 Mar 2010, 11:30pm
Automobiles Bicycles Commuting Roads Toll roads Transit Travel
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Comments Off on 2005 Dodge Caravan 4th anniversary

2005 Dodge Caravan 4th anniversary

This is somewhat obscure but while searching through papers for the upcoming tax adventure, I happened upon the original sales document for my 2005 Dodge Caravan which I purchased exactly four years ago to the day, March 28, 2006.  Since then I have added 69,271 miles to its already high one year total of 28,702 – it was probably a rental that maxed out early – making a grand total, as of today, of 97,973. more »

3 Mar 2010, 11:22pm
Commuting Passenger rail Roads Toll roads Transit:
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Comments Off on Streetcar dreams: Now it’s time to talk money

Streetcar dreams: Now it’s time to talk money

Streetcar from VIA Metropolitan Transit report (looks like it's in Portland).

Streetcar from VIA Metropolitan Transit report (looks like it's in Portland).

After starting the fiscal year by shaving $19 million in spending, including 330 jobs, the city is now being asked to kick in $17 million to build a two-mile streetcar line.

That’s just part of the bill to buy streetcars and lay rails along Broadway and South Alamo Street by 2014. The county, VIA Metropolitan Transit and the federal government could also pony up to help pay what would be an estimated $90 million.

City Council heard the pitch this afternoon.

“If there was any sticker shock … council members mostly kept it to themselves,” the Express-News wrote.

The city hasn’t made any commitments, at least not yet.

At $45 million a mile, the price tag is quite a bit cheaper than, say, turning U.S. 281 out by Stone Oak into a superhighway, or, I should say, tollway.

Ah, but already I’m talking apples and oranges. This quaint two-mile rail line wouldn’t be a wide commuter route helping connect San Antonio’s core to its fringes.

Nope, unlike U.S. 281’s role as an artery for sprawl, the rail line, if done well, would be a magnet for compact living, working and playing. The idea is to drive some growth to the inner city, by creating a place where people would gladly leave their cars behind more often. Tourists would love it too.

Nonetheless, critics and proponents will duke it out with such comparisons. And with so many angles on varying public and private costs, some visible and some not so visible, expect a debate that’s about as clear as mud.

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