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San Antonio Area Freeway System
Loop 1604 North Expansion Project

This page last updated August 29, 2018

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This project is currently being redesigned
Previous plans to build tolled managed lanes have been dropped. New non-tolled plans are forthcoming and this page will be updated when those plans are available. General information about the past and current plans is presented here.

Below is information about the history of previous plans to add managed lanes to Loop 1604 and what is currently known about the current toll-free expansion plans.


Project history

In the mid to late '80s and early '90s, Loop 1604 was upgraded from a two-lane farm road to a four-lane freeway between I-10 West and I-35 North. Subsequent projects in the early and mid '90s extended the freeway to Kitty Hawk on the east and to Braun Rd. on the west. Since that time, a tremendous amount development has taken place along the 1604 corridor and traffic counts all along 1604 have increased dramatically. In fact, 13 of the top 20 locations for traffic growth between 1990 and 2016 were along 1604 North, with the location just north of Bandera showing growth of almost 1000%. Meanwhile, Loop 1604 has struggled to keep up with the explosion of traffic. Various upgrades to the western section have been completed since 1999. However, plans to expand the northern arc from Bandera Rd. to I-35 North have been stalled for several reasons including delays to environmental studies and inadequate funding available for the $800 million project.

Loop 1604 earmarked for managed lanes
As a result of staggering increases in construction costs in the early 2000s that resulted in severe funding shortages, the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC), at the behest of the governor and using tools previously granted by the Legislature and voters, ordered in December 2003 that "controlled-access mobility projects in any phase of development or construction must be evaluated for tolling. This includes new location facilities and increased capacity projects such as adding additional main lanes or constructing new main lanes." TxDOT, therefore, was compelled to evaluate all planned Loop 1604 freeway projects for possible tolling. The evaluation showed that the anticipated traffic volumes along 1604 made it viable for tolling, so per the TTC's order, the projects were reclassified as toll projects and plans were made to incorporate managed lanes into the designs for new lanes from Culebra Rd. to I-35 North.


What is a managed lane?

A managed lane is a lane where the operational strategies of the lane are adjusted in real-time as required to ensure that the lane remains free-flowing, thus providing for a guaranteed travel time for users of the lane. For example, toll rates or vehicle occupancy requirements may fluctuate based on traffic conditions or time of day. Typically, managed lanes allow toll-free access for buses, carpools, and emergency vehicles while single-occupancy vehicles (i.e. solo drivers) can use the lane by paying a variable-rate toll.

How is this beneficial? Besides providing a clear way for public transportation and emergency vehicles, it also gives commuters who want or need to get where they're going faster an opportunity to bypass congestion by paying a toll to use any excess capacity of the lane. Every motorist who opts to do so removes one more vehicle from the toll-free lanes which can help ease congestion. The resulting toll revenue helps to subsidize for the road, saving scarce tax dollars for other needed projects.
 

Cintra-Zachary proposal
In 2004, a consortium consisting of local construction giant Zachary and the Spanish infrastructure company Cintra, which were working together on a bid to operate one of the Trans Texas Corridor projects, submitted an unsolicited bid to TxDOT to build the Loop 1604 managed lanes project, as well as the proposed US 281 tollway project, in return for a 50-year lease to operate the tollways. Because the bid had merit, TxDOT was required under state law to fully evaluate it and accept any other bids for the projects. The Cintra-Zachary bid not only paid for construction and subsequent maintenance and operation of both roadways (which freed scarce state funding for other needed projects), it also paid a large franchise fee to the state that could also be used to fund other projects. Based on those merits, the Cintra-Zachary bid was accepted in early 2005 and work started on the US 281 project later that year. A subsequent lawsuit resulted in TxDOT canceling the Cintra-Zachary contract.

ARMA takes over
Then in 2007, the Legislature passed a moratorium on nearly all new privately built and/or operated toll roads and passed legislation requiring that local Regional Mobility Authorities be given the right of first refusal on toll projects in their jurisdiction. The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA), which was established by Bexar County in 2003, subsequently opted to take control of both the 281 and 1604 projects and put forth a $1.8 billion plan to upgrade and expand the entire northern arc of Loop 1604 from Military Dr. on the west all the way over to I-10 on the east. The required environmental study for that project was started and, during the scoping process for that study, the eastern boundary for the project was set at I-35 North while the western boundary was extended south to US 90. However, an unexpected funding source became available in 2014 that allowed construction of the western arc without tolls, so those projects were evaluated as standalone projects for environmental clearance. This change required the scope of the ongoing study to be adjusted yet again which consequently delayed the study.

Southern US 281/Loop 1604 interchange connectors built
In February 2009, Congress approved a national economic "stimulus" plan that poured additional federal money into road construction projects. The Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) approved allocating San Antonio's share of transportation stimulus funding to be used as matching funds to leverage state funding for first half of a 281/1604 interchange. This project built all four of the ramps connecting to 281 south of 1604, i.e. northbound 281 to both directions of 1604, and both directions of 1604 to southbound 281. The use of the federal funds allowed the ramps to be toll-free. The Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) approved the funding request on March 5th, 2009. Construction began in early 2011 was completed in early 2013.
It was determined that ramps connecting to 281 north of 1604 could not be built until lingering issues stemming from the lawsuits and associated environmental studies for 281 north of 1604 are resolved. Those ramps are being built as part of the first phase of the US 281 expansion project.

Eastern and western upgrades built
The TTC also approved using stimulus funds to expand Loop 1604 to a four lane divided highway from FM 78 to Graytown Rd. near Randolph AFB. That work was completed in September 2011. Also in September 2011, ARMA and TxDOT completed a package of improvements -- including two "superstreet" intersections -- on Loop 1604 West at New Guilbeau and Shaenfield Rd.

New funding for toll-free expansions
In January 2014, TxDOT and ARMA announced funding had been secured to expand Loop 1604's western arc from Braun Rd. south to US 90 using a mix of various local funding sources from the Advanced Transportation District and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority. However, this corridor was included in an ongoing federal environmental study, which would not be complete for several more years. Since the funding for the western expansion was coming solely from state and local sources, it no longer was required to comply with federal environmental rules. Therefore, to avoid delaying those projects unnecessarily, that segment was removed from the ongoing study and was approved under a separate state environmental review. This had the side-effect of derailing that ongoing study so that it could be re-scoped and re-started using the new project limits, thus resulting in a substantial delay.

Tolls still needed
During its session in early 2015, the Texas Legislature approved new funding sources for highways that will allocate approximately $2.5 billion from sales taxes and motor vehicle sales taxes annually to highways. At that time, it was projected that even the new funding would not be sufficient to fund this project, so the tolled managed lane component remained in the plans.

Tolling depreciated
In late 2017, the governor and lieutenant governor directed the Transportation Commission to remove tolling from future projects. However, because Loop 1604 was already in local plans with toll bonding underpinning its funding and because the new state funding for the area was still projected to be insufficient to cover its $800 million cost, it retained its designation as a toll project. 

Toll component removed; TxDOT takes project back
With tolling deprecated statewide and with all the other planned local toll projects converted back to traditional funding, and with future funding availability more favorable, the MPO decided in 2018 to remove the toll component from this project as well. TxDOT will now assume planning for this project.


Project status

With the toll component removed, TxDOT is now planning to expand Loop 1604 from Bandera to I-35 to eight general purpose freeway lanes (i.e. four lanes in each direction) plus an HOV lane in each direction. Current funding projections will require the project to be divided into at least two phases: the first phase will run from Bandera to Redland and will include roughly half of the direct connectors for a new interchange at I-10; the second phase will run from Redland to I-35 and may also include the remaining connectors at I-10. New interchange connectors at I-35 will be built as part of the I-35 express lanes project. TxDOT does not expect planning and the environmental study to be complete and approved until at least 2021. In the meantime, they are investigating several small and inexpensive "quick-fix" type projects to help relieve some critical bottlenecks.

Currently planned cross-section for Loop 1604 from Bandera to I-35


Other sites of interest

Alamo Regional Mobility Authority
http://www.alamorma.org
More for Loop 1604
http://www.morefor1604ea.com/



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This page and all its contents are Copyright 2018 by Brian Purcell

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