SAN ANTONIO FREEWAY HISTORY
Read my essay on San Antonio's freeway history for the Express-News' Tricentennial series
The full history of the freeway system is available on this site
| San Antonio Freeway System
Freeway System History
|This page last updated November 18, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fredericksburg Rd., N. Flores St.
Austin Hwy., Randolph Blvd.
|| S. Alamo
St., Nogalitos St., New Laredo Hwy.
|| S. Presa
Commerce St., Old Hwy 90 W, Kriewald Rd.
the construction of San Antonio's freeway system, several existing
sections of US, State, and FM routes in the outlying areas were
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.
from the mid-1940s show the earliest proposal for an "Urban Expressway"
network. That proposal included today's "Downtown Y" sections
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
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
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
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
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
November 28, 1949, a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the Colorado
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
Martin where it merged into Pecos St. going southbound and from San
northbound. The first section of I-35 South, stretching from Guadalupe
to Nogalitos, opened in
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
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
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
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.
The first section of I-35 North, from Martin to Broadway, had been built and was now open.
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
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.
public support and federal funding now covering 90% of
construction costs, expressway planning reached a fevered pitch 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
the first sections of the two-lane FM 1604 were now complete between
I-10 West and US 281.
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.
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
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
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
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
spur in conjunction with elaborate distribution ramps for the other
freeways surrounding downtown.
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.
was under construction from Florida St. to US 181. All of the
two-lane FM 1604 north of US 90 was now complete as
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.
for US 281 appear to have been scrapped by this time.
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.
over the proposed US 281 North continued on into the new decade and a
fight over another freeway-- the Bandera Expressway-- was gearing-up.
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
the original Bandera Expressway route had been scrapped due to city
officials' concerns about its path through the "Model Cities" urban
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Construction on the first phase to expand Loop 1604 West, from Bandera to SH 151, was now underway.