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[i] Information SAN ANTONIO FREEWAY HISTORY
Read my essay on San Antonio's freeway history for the Express-News' Tricentennial series here. The full history of the freeway system is available on this site here.

San Antonio Freeway System
Freeway System History

This page last updated November 18, 2017

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Below is Version 2.1 of the best history of the San Antonio area freeway system that I can assemble. The information on this page was compiled from a wide variety of sources including old city maps, newspaper articles, and an array of highway plans and documents. Many thanks to the San Antonio Central Library Texana section and the San Antonio district office of TxDOT for their assistance in locating those materials.

This page covers the history of the expansion of the overall system but not capacity expansions on individual freeways. Details of those capacity and reconstruction projects are available on the individual freeway pages elsewhere on this site.

For other historical maps and photos, see the photo gallery page



For historical photos and maps, see the media galleries.

General

San Antonio began to plan and develop its freeway system during World War II and was one of four cities with a Texas Highway Department Urban Expressways division (the others being Houston, Dallas, and Ft. Worth.) Maps from the mid 1940s show a three-legged "Interstate Highways and Expressways for post-war construction" that is today's "Downtown Y" of Interstates 10 and 35. In plans and news reports, the routes were interchangeably referred to as expressways; urban expressways; freeways; or interregional, intrastate, or interstate highways. In the subsequent decades, numerous freeway plans were proposed. Not all of them were implemented, but most were, leading to the system that is in place today. Below are maps and descriptions of the system (both completed and proposed) at various points during the last 70 years. The years chosen were those for which I could find definitive information or were benchmark years in the development of the system. Between those dates, short-lived variations to specific proposals may have been proposed but were not substantially different enough to warrant inclusion here.

On the maps below, I've tried to show a segment as complete only when the full freeway was open to traffic. In many cases, a lesser roadway was built first, such as a divided highway or access roads, followed some time later by the full freeway. For the '50s and '60s, it was difficult to differentiate these levels of completion from reports and maps, so some segments may show as complete even before having been a full freeway.

In some cases, I found conflicting or incomplete information, so I had to extrapolate or infer the status of particular segments at certain times based on earlier and/or subsequent reports. This may result in some minor inconsistencies.

Early freeways here replaced existing US and State Highways and initially carried those route numbers. It wasn't until the early and mid '60s that Interstate shields began appearing on local freeways. For consistency and ease of reference, I refer to the current route designation of the roadways in the discussions below. For reference, here is a list of the early highway designations, including the state highway designation that preceded the US route number as well as the routing of those routes in 1945 just before the start of the first freeway project. Most of the routes were adjusted several times as the freeway system evolved and usurped them.

TODAY U.S. HWY PRE-U.S. HWY
DESIGNATION
PRE-FREEWAY ROUTING
I-10
WEST
US 87 SH 9 SH 27 Fredericksburg Rd., N. Flores St.
I-10
EAST
US 90 SH 3 E. Commerce St.
I-35
NORTH
US 81 SH 2 Broadway, Austin Hwy., Randolph Blvd.
I-35
SOUTH
US 81 SH 2 S. Alamo St., Nogalitos St., New Laredo Hwy.
I-37 US 181 SH 16 S. Presa St.
US 90
WEST
US 90 SH 3 W. Commerce St., Old Hwy 90 W, Kriewald Rd.
US 281
NORTH
US 281 SH 66 San Pedro Ave.
N/A LP 13 LP 410 N/A


Pre-1945

Pre-1945 map

Map legend

During the construction of San Antonio's freeway system, several existing sections of US, State, and FM routes in the outlying areas were upgraded to freeways. The maps on this page show those sections in dark gray as "pre-freeway" roadways until the time they're upgraded. Where known, freeways that were preceded by newly-built "sub-freeway" type roads (e.g. divided highways or access roads) are also shown as "pre-freeway" as those roads were built. 


1945

1945 map

Map legend

City maps from the mid-1940s show the earliest proposal for an "Urban Expressway" network. That proposal included today's "Downtown Y" sections of I-10 and I-35. Soon, extensions to that core system were proposed. I-35 North was proposed along what would be its eventual path. I-35 South was proposed to follow Nogalitos from its intersection with present-day I-35 south to New Laredo Hwy., then south along that roadway to its present-day intersection with I-35, then south along present-day I-35 from there (this would have simply been an upgrade to the existing US 81 route at that time.) I-10 West was proposed to roughly parallel the rail line from downtown to NW Bexar County. I-10 East was proposed to approach the city along the present day I-10 (which was already in-place as US 90), then veer northwest from near WW White to meet I-35 near Walters St. 

Today's section of Loop 410 between NW Military Hwy. and Harry Wurzbach was actually part of the longer Harry Wurzbach Military Highway, which was a single road connecting Fort Sam Houston to Camp Bullis. This is why those intersections are angled the way they are to this today.


1952

1952 map

Map legend

Construction of the city's first expressway, a 0.7 mile section of I-10 from Fredericksburg at Woodlawn to Culebra, started in 1946. The road opened without fanfare in mid-July 1949. On November 28, 1949, a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the Colorado St. overpass celebrated the official opening of the longer segment from Woodlawn to today's Frio St. interchange (Comal St. at the time.) A year later, the freeway was extended from Frio to Martin where it merged into Pecos St. going southbound and from San Saba St. coming northbound. The first section of I-35 South, stretching from Guadalupe to Nogalitos, opened in late 1952.

The proposal for the northern end of I-10 West had now been modified to jog further to the west, meeting Fredericksburg Rd. near Huebner. The I-35 South proposal had been modified to use today's alignment as far south as SW Military, then to proceed west on Military to New Laredo Hwy., then south from there. A proposal to extend Loop 410 to the west of NW Military Hwy. would have routed it to near today's intersection of Callaghan and Fredericksburg.

Although I cannot find an actual route map for it, I have discovered some artist's renderings for a proposed US 90 expressway cutting right through the middle of the King William District as well as a proposed interchange at I-35. Based on these, I have extrapolated what I think is a possible proposal for US 90 at this time. I believe it would have used the Castroville Rd. and Guadalupe St. corridors on the West Side and crossed I-35 at the aforementioned interchange, then cut southeast through King William, Southtown, and Lavaca before crossing today's I-37 near Carolina St. Continuing east, there are a couple of possible corridors, but based on the trajectory through King William as well as the subsequent proposal for I-10 East in 1956, it seems that a route along Rigsby Ave. was plausible, probably using part of today's I-10 East near New Braunfels Ave and Walters St. I've shown this route on the map above in a lighter shade since it's mostly theoretical. I plan to keep researching this proposal to see if I can find a more definitive plan for it.


1955

1957 map

Map legend

The first section of I-35 North, from Martin to Broadway, had been built and was now open.

Large sections of outlying freeways were now under construction. The first section of Loop 410 (then known as Loop 13) running from US 90 to Bandera was under construction. The alignment for I-35 South between Military and the future Loop 410 had been adjusted yet again, this time to its final alignment, and was now under construction. I-35 North from Fratt to Toepperwein Rd. was also under construction.

There was no publicly-available routing for either I-10 East or US 90 West inside Loop 410 at this time, so it seems that the earlier proposal through King William had met with some resistance and been reconsidered. The alignment for I-10 West had moved again, this time running parallel to Fredericksburg Rd.

Routing for the SE segment of Loop 410 as well as I-37 was in limbo awaiting a decision on a possible runway expansion at Brooks AFB. Most of the alignment for Loop 410 had been finalized and plans for US 90 West were now underway as well.


1957

1957 map

Map legend

With strong public support and federal funding now covering 90% of construction costs, expressway planning reached a fevered pitch by 1957. By this time, San Antonio was generally ahead of other cities with the Express-News reporting that San Antonio was "outdoing all other Texas cities who, despite their boasting, have been unable to get an Expressway into their major business and shopping areas" and officials were hoping to continue the momentum with the release of an ambitious freeway plan in 1956.

The latest proposal for I-10 West was for the alignment that would eventually be built. A new proposal for I-10 East appears to have routed it along Rigsby Ave. to WW White Rd., then northeast from there to today's route. The first proposals for the eventual I-37, US 281 North, and US 90 West were now known and the routing for the southeastern arc of Loop 410 had been settled.

Several other freeways were proposed that eventually would be scrapped including a US 281 South freeway along Roosevelt Ave., the Bandera Expressway along Culebra Ave. and Bandera Rd., and the first proposal for an "inner bypass" west of downtown along Zarzamora to connect I-10 West to I-35 South bypassing downtown. This was planned to relieve congestion that had already manifested on the original sections of I-10.

I-35 South from SW Military to New Laredo Hwy was complete and was now under construction from Nogalitos south to Division. The elevated "Central Expressway", connecting I-35 North and South and which would carry motorists "in the air through downtown" according to news reports at the time, was also under construction.

The first section of Loop 410 (then still Loop 13), from Culebra to Bandera, opened in 1956. Loop 410 from Bandera to Blanco and Culebra to US 90 were under construction. 

The first proposals for an "Outer Loop" (now Loop 1604) were also made at this time. The western arc, from I-10 to US 90, was originally designated Loop 334 before being merged with FM 1604 in 1959.  

Note: I only show the overall Loop 1604 proposal during this year. It remained in the local highway plans from this point forward, but it was initially built as Farm-to-Market roads. For clarity, from this point on, I'll only designate "proposed freeway" sections for Loop 1604 when plans were released to upgrade those sections to a freeway.


1959

1959 map

Map legend

The northwestern arc of Loop 410 from US 90 all the way to Blanco was now complete. I-35 South had been completed south of New Laredo Hwy. and was under construction between Nogalitos and SW Military.  I-35 North from Broadway to the Walters St. area and also north of Toepperwein was now under construction.  

I-10 West was now under construction from Loop 410 to De Zavala as was the SW segment of Loop 410 between US 90 and I-35 South.

Earlier proposals for US 281 North and I-37 disappeared during this time, likely bceause they were under additional study.

The final routing for I-10 East had finally been selected.


1961

1961 map

Map legend

Substantial sections of freeway were now open to traffic. The western arc of Loop 410, from Broadway around to I-35 South, was complete. However, only the section of 410 from I-10 West to I-35 South carried the Interstate 410 shield; the section east of I-10 was marked as State Loop 410 because it was not yet part of the national Interstate Highway plan. Loop 410 on the Southside between I-35 and Roosevelt was under construction.

All of I-35 north of Fratt was now open, and all of I-35 South was now complete. Construction was underway to close the gap on I-35 North around the eastern side of Ft. Sam Houston. 

I-10 West was now complete from Woodlawn north to De Zavala. The section of I-10 East from Houston St. eastward was also under construction.

Finally, the first sections of the two-lane FM 1604 were now complete between I-10 West and US 281.


1964

1964 map

Map legend

With federal Interstate Highway funding now pouring-in and approval from city voters of another expressway bond proposal, construction was continuing briskly. In 1962, I-35 had become the first metropolitan Interstate in Texas to be fully completed. I-10 West was now under construction from De Zavala to Leon Springs. I-10 East was complete east of Houston St. 

Loop 410 on the Southside was open from I-35 east to Roosevelt, and most of the eastern arc from I-35 North to New Sulphur Springs Rd. was complete as well. The first section of US 90 West, from I-35 to Cupples Rd., was just starting construction. Additional sections of the two-lane FM 1604 were now complete across the Northside from Bandera Rd. to I-10 East.

New routes were now on the drawing boards including Spur 371 (the "Kelly Access Freeway", now General Hudnell Dr.) and a revised routing for the previously-proposed Bandera Expressway that took it through the near West Side and south of downtown generally along today's Cesar Chavez Blvd. The proposed I-10 bypass was also back on the drawing boards, slicing a path in the Zarzamora corridor to connect I-10 and US 90.

The routing of the North Expressway (US 281 North), which would soon become quite controversial, was now being fleshed-out. Two small freeway connectors were also planned for the North Expressway: San Pedro Ave. connecting Loop 410 to US 281, and the St. Mary's Connector, running parallel to St. Mary's St., connecting US 281 to I-35 just north of downtown. It would have also featured a downtown feeder spur in conjunction with elaborate distribution ramps for the other freeways surrounding downtown.  


1967

1967 map

Map legend

Freeway construction continued to move forward full-steam in preparation for the 1968 World's Fair ("HemisFair"). By 1967, the bulk of today's freeway system was complete or under construction. All of Loop 410 was now done, but the section from I-10 West to I-35 North still carried the State Loop 410 designation; it would not see an Interstate 410 shield until mid-1969.

The first section of US 90 West as far as Cupples was open as was the section from Loop 410 to today's Old Hwy. 90. SP 371 was also complete. 

I-37 was under construction from Florida St. to US 181. All of the two-lane FM 1604 north of US 90 was now complete as well.  

The Bandera Expressway proposal was unchanged. The battle over the path for US 281 near Hildebrand was raging at this time. The San Pedro and St. Mary's connectors for US 281 appear to have been scrapped by this time.


1968

1968 map

Map legend

As HemisFair opened, most of the city's freeway system was in place. All of I-10 and I-35 was open. US 90 West was complete to Loop 410, and I-37 between Florida St. and SE Military was done. The section of I-37 between SE Military to US 181 was under construction as well as the section from Florida St. to I-35 with part of the section next to the HemisFair area being temporarily paved and used as a parking lot for the fair.


1973

1973 map

Map legend

The controversy over the proposed US 281 North continued on into the new decade and a fight over another freeway-- the Bandera Expressway-- was gearing-up.

Work on the undisputed northern and southern parts of US 281 had begun in 1969, but was suspended in 1971 when the Conservation Society won a decision to revoke federal funding. In 1973, Congress allowed the state and city to complete the freeway without federal funding and work resumed immediately.  

Meanwhile, the original Bandera Expressway route had been scrapped due to city officials' concerns about its path through the "Model Cities" urban renewal area on the near West Side. A new proposal for the freeway, now officially being called the "Northwest Transportation Facility", routed it along Culebra from I-10 to Loop 1604. In addition, a new route for the I-10 bypass was proposed for the near West Side that took it closer to downtown and out of the Model Cities area.

Amid the controversies, I-37 had been completed downtown and south to US 181 and work had started from there south to the Loop 1604 area.


1979

1979 map

Map legend

The bitter war over US 281 North was finally over and the freeway opened in 1978 and the last section of the original plan, from San Pedro to Bitters, was under construction. However, the Bandera Expressway proposal had been scrapped by this time due to protests over the number of displacements it would cause. The I-10 bypass was also cancelled; instead, plans were now underway to double-deck I-10.

The last sections of FM 1604 south of the city were now under construction and the road would soon be renamed Loop 1604. Planning to upgrade the increasingly busy and dangerous northern arc to a freeway was underway.


1984

1984 map

Map legend

By the mid '80s, suburban growth was begining to reach the northern sections of Loop 1604. As a result, an upgrade of the loop to a freeway was underway from I-10 West to US 281 North and in the area around I-35 North, and was planned between US 281 and I-35. 


1987

1987 map

Map legend

The Loop 1604 upgrade from I-10 to US 281 was complete as was the new Loop 1604/I-35 North interchange, and work was progressing to upgrade 1604 between US 281 and I-35. Plans to upgrade US 281 from Bitters to Loop 1604 were announced, and the access roads for SH 151 outside Loop 410 were under construction (not indicated on map.)


1990

1990 map

Map legend

The most heavily traveled sections of Loop 1604 across the North Side had now been upgraded to a freeway, ending the days of the "Death Loop", so-called because of the high number of fatal accidents that had occurred along it. Plans were now in the works to extend the western end of the freeway south to Bandera Rd.

Work to upgrade US 281 North between Bitters and Loop 1604 was completed in record time, and the SH 151 access roads were now complete along its entire route. Initial proposals for an "East-West Parkway"-- subsequently named Wurzbach Parkway-- to relieve traffic on Loops 410 and 1604 had been announced.


2000

2000 map

Map legend

At the dawn of the new millennium, short sections of freeway mainlanes had been added to SH 151 at Potranco, Pinn, and Old Highway 90, and the freeway mainlanes from Old Highway 90 to Callaghan were under construction. Proposals to finish the SH 151 freeway were now on the books. 

An overpass on Loop 1604 at Kitty Hawk built in the mid '90s essentially extended that freeway east to FM 78. On the western end, Loop 1604 had been upgraded to a freeway from John Peace to Bandera Rd. 

The first section of the Wurzbach Parkway was open from Wetmore to O'Connor and the segment from Lockhill-Selma to NW Military Hwy. was nearing completion.


2005

2005 map

Map legend

Work to complete the mainlanes of SH 151 had been completed by 2005. Wurzbach Parkway was done now from Lockhill-Selma to Blanco Rd. and plans were on the books to finish the remaining segments. Initial plans to upgrade US 281 to a freeway north of Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway were announced in the ca. 2000. Plans to build it as a tollway created a storm of controversy that would delay it for over a decade.


2012

2012 map

Map legend

Work to finally build the missing middle segments of Wurzbach Parkway was now underway and plans were announced to extend the Loop 1604 freeway south from Bandera to US 90.


2015

2015 map

Map legend

Construction on the first phase to expand Loop 1604 West, from Bandera to SH 151, was now underway.




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This page and all its contents are Copyright 2017 by Brian Purcell

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The information provided on this website is provided on an "as-is" basis without warranties of any kind either express or implied.  The author and his agents make no warranties or representations of any kind concerning any information contained in this website.  This website is provided only as general information.  The author expressly disclaims all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based upon the information contained herein or with respect to any errors or omissions in such information.  All opinions expressed are strictly those of the author.  This site is not affiliated in any way with any official agency.