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San Antonio Area Freeway System
Proposed Tollway System

This page last updated March 9, 2017

Beginning in the late 1990s and early 2000s, state officials began to realzie that funding to build new roads was not able to keep pace with the increasing needs.  The main issue was and continues to be the negative effect inflation and dramatic increases in construction costs was having on the state's static fuel tax, which was last adjusted in 1991.  Additionally, improved fuel mileage, which translates into less fuel tax paid per mile driven, as well as continuing" diversions" of funds from the state's Highway Fund to pay for public education and other non-transportation expenses, were substantially reducing the amount of funding available for new highway construction.  Furthermore, the federal fuel tax had also not been adjusted since 1993 and, as a result, the federal government in 2008 and 2009 was forced to rescind previously allocated funding due to shortfalls in revenue.  Texas and San Antonio have historically been shortchanged on transportation funding and a substantial backlog of needed projects remains from all those years of being shortchanged in addition to the demands caused by recent explosive population and traffic growth.  Meanwhile, until recently, the funding issues had only been addressed by the Legislature through a series of band-aid measures and Congress continues to struggle to fix transportation funding issues on the national level.

Therefore, to help expedite the construction of needed roadways, the state encouraged local authorities in the early 2000s to find their own funding mechanisms.  To that end, Bexar County leaders in 2003 created the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) to take a local leadership role in finding funding solutions for the San Antonio area.  Because there are few local funding mechanisms available under state law, the primary focus was on using tolls as the backing for bonds that would fund major projects. Tolling the new roadways and lanes would provide the funding mechanism to pay for them in-lieu of waiting for limited tax-based financing.  Using this financing method typically could allow many major projects to be built as much as 25 years ahead of the projected traditional gas tax-funded schedules and, as a result, also substantially cheaper.  Although created primarily as a tolling agency, ARMA has to-date been able to secure non-toll funding sources for the projects it has developed, most notably the US 281/Loop 1604 interchange, which was originally expected to be a toll project.

During its session in early 2015, the Texas Legislature approved a new funding source for highways that will allocate approximately $2.5 billion from sales taxes and motor vehicle sales taxes annually to highways and also ended most diversions from the Highway Fund.  This increase in funding will allow several previously-planned toll projects to be built without the use of tolls.


On this page:

Types of tollways

Some people seem to have the perception that implementing a tollway on a road just means adding tolls to an existing roadway.  However, in all cases, toll road projects involve the construction of new lanes, almost always some form of expressway lanes.  Below are the different types of tollways that have been considered for Bexar County.

  • Tolled expressway mainlanes
    In this scenario, the mainlanes of the expressway, which are new, are tolled, while the access roads remain toll-free.  The expressway lanes include overpasses at major intersections (i.e. no traffic signals.)  It is important to understand that in every case where this type of tollway is proposed, it is essentially the same proposal as a non-tolled version of the same project would be.  The only difference is that drivers who opt to use the new expressway lanes pay a toll.  The existing toll-free, signalized lanes remain toll-free and serve as the frontage roads for the new expressway lanes.  This is a more "traditional" type of tollway such the Sam Houston Tollway (Beltway 8) in Houston or George Bush Turnpike in Dallas.  This type of tollway was planned for part of US 281 but dropped when new funding became available in 2015.  It had been studied for the Kelly Parkway, a possible future extension of SH 151 outside of Loop 1604,
    and for Wurzbach Parkway between Blanco and Wetmore, and for Bandera Rd., but those proposals were subsequently dropped. 

of lanes can vary depending on project.
Diagrams are for illustrative purposes only and are not to scale.


  • Managed lanes
    On roads that already have non-tolled expressway lanes, those existing lanes remain toll-free, but new tolled express lanes known as "managed lanes" (see definition below) are built in the median between the existing toll-free expressway lanes or, in some cases elevated overor trenched below
    the existing lanes.  The existing lanes may have to be moved or reconfigured to provide sufficient room for the new lanes.  When built at-grade, the managed lanes are separated from the toll-free lanes by barriers with limited entry and exit points to the toll-free lanes.  Examples of this type of tollway are I-10 West (Katy Freeway) in Houston and the North Tarrant Express in Ft. Worth.  This type of tollway was planned for part of US 281 but dropped when new funding became available in 2015.  Managed lanes have also been proposed for parts of I-10 West, I-10 East, Loop 1604, I-35 North (elevated), SH 151, and I-37 (see map above for locations.)

Cross-section of freeway with managed lanes

Number of lanes can vary depending on project.
Diagrams are for illustrative purposes only and are not to scale.

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 trafffic conditions or time of day.  Typically, managed lanes allow 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 may be late to get where they're going an opportunity to bypass congestion by paying a toll.  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.

  • Tolled interchange
    New direct-connect ramps between a tollway and an intersecting roadway are tolled.  Tolled interchanges are currently proposed for as part of the I-10 managed lanes as well as the I-35 elevated managed lanes.  A tolled interchange at US 281 and Wurzbach Parkway was studied but determined to be infeasible.  Other tolled interchanges have previously been proposed at Loop 1604 and SH 151, Loop 1604 at I-10 East, and on the planned Kelly Parkway at I-35 and at Loop 410.  The US 281/Loop 1604 interchange was initially planned as a tolled interchange but various other funding sources have allowed it to be built with non-tolled connectors instead.

Proposed systems

2009 Plan
In 2009, ARMA identified a number of feasible tollway projects in Bexar County.  An initial "Starter System" of about 20 miles along US 281 and Loop 1604 was originally identified with additional segments of Loop 1604 subsequently added.  Several other possible toll projects had also been investigated by TxDOT but were subsequently determined to be infeasible.  The map below shows the proposed tollway locations in San Antonio in that 2009 plan.

Proposed 2009 tollway locations map


  • US 281 North from Loop 1604 to the Comal County line
  • Loop 1604 northern arc from Military Dr. West to I-10 East and its interchanges with SH 151, I-10 West, US 281 North, I-35 North, and I-10 East


  • I-35 from Loop 410 South to the Comal County line
  • SH 151 from Loop 1604 to SH 211
  • I-10 West from Loop 1604 to Boerne
  • I-10 East from Loop 410 to SH 130 in Seguin
  • Kelly Parkway and its interchanges with I-35 South and Loop 410

(These sections had previously been considered for tolling but were subsequently determined to be infeasible.)

  • SH 16 (Bandera Rd.) from Loop 410 to Loop 1604
  • Wurzbach Parkway from Starcrest Dr. to Blanco Rd.
  • Interchange at Wurzbach Parkway and US 281
  • Southern half of US 281/Loop 1604 interchange
    (funded instead as a toll-free project using federal economic stimulus funds)

2014 Plan
In the years between 2009 and 2014, ARMA and TxDOT continued studies on the various corridors and made revisions to their list of possible toll projects.  In December 2014, the MPO incorporated the latest proposals into their plans as shown on the map below.

Proposed 2014 tollway locations map


  • US 281 North from Loop 1604 to the Comal County line
  • Loop 1604 northern arc from US 90 West to I-10 East including tolled ramps at I-10 West, I-35 North, and I-10 East
  • I-10 East from Loop 410 to SH 130 in Seguin
  • I-35 from downtown to FM 1103 (the managed lanes along this section would mostly be double-decked)
  • I-10 West from Loop 1604 to Boerne (this would be built in two phases with the first phase from Loop 1604 to Leon Springs)


  • SH 151 from Loop 410 to Loop 1604
  • I-37 from SE Military to Fair Ave.

(These sections were dropped from consideration for tolling.)

  • Kelly Parkway
  • SH 151 outside of Loop 1604
  • I-35 from US 281 to Loop 410 South
  • Loop 410 between I-35 North and I-10 East
  • Tolled ramps to US 281 north of Loop 1604

Current status

Since the 2014 plan, funding has been secured to build the US 281 North and I-10 West segments without tolls.  Both will include HOV lanes.

It is likely the SH 151 and I-10 East segments will also be dropped and funded as conventional expansions.

The Loop 1604 (Bandera to I-35) and I-35 expansions are still proposed as toll projects due to their enormous cost.

Cibolo Parkway
In 2015, the Cibolo city council instructed city staff to investigate options to extend FM 1103 south to FM 78 and I-10 and a blue-ribbon citizens committee was formed to study the matter.  In 2016, that committee recommended the project go forward as a tollway.  This is a standalone project not included in the regional tollway plans.  More information on this project is here.

Tolls & toll collection

TxTag signIn late 2007, the MPO approved toll rates of 17 cents per mile and 57 cents per tolled interchange ramp for most passenger vehicles.  Larger vehicles (such as 18-wheelers) would pay 46 cents per mile and $1.15 per ramp.  (These were the planned 2009 rates and would now need to be reevaluated if any toll projects come to fruition.)  As is the current trend across the US, all tolls would be collected electronically; there would be no tollbooths.  Tolls are collected using electronic transponder ("toll tag").  These tags are stickers mounted inside the windshield of the vehicle that contain a radio frequency ID (RFID) chip that transmits the tag's unique code.  Electronic tag readers located at strategic locations along the toll system record the identifier codes of tags as they pass by.  The toll is then deducted from a pre-paid balance in the account associated with tag.  Alternatively, vehicles can use the toll system without toll tags; the license plates of these vehicles are photographed and the owner billed by mail for the toll amount plus an additional collection fee.

The toll tag systems across the state are interconnected, so toll tags from any Texas toll agency can be used on any tollway in the state.


In December 2003, the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC), at the behest of the governor and using new tools granted by the Legislature and voters, ordered 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."  (TTC Minute Order 109519, 12/18/03)  The order specifically included "increased capacity projects such as...constructing new main lanes." 

"Starter system" is born
At the time, TxDOT was working to secure funding for a planned expansion of US 281 from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Pkwy.  Because that project fit the requirements of the TTC order, TxDOT was compelled to evaluate it for possible tolling.  That review showed that it met the requirements for tolling, so per the TTC's order, the project was reclassified as a toll facility.  A plan to expand Loop 1604 was also evaluated for tolling and subsequently combined with the US 281 project to form a tollway "starter system" plan.

Cintra-Zachary proposal
Initially, the plan was that TxDOT would build the starter system beginning in late 2005, then transfer operational responsibility to ARMA when completed around 2009.  But in May 2005, Cintra-Zachary, the private consortium selected to build the first leg of the now-defunct Trans-Texas Corridor, made an unsolicited bid to build and operate the San Antonio tollway starter system.  After review, TxDOT decided that the proposal had enough merit that it would have to be considered, and in accordance with state law, accepted other private bids to build and operate the starter system.  According to media reports, Cintra-Zachary's bid would allow the project to be built faster, would pay the state a concession fee in return for a 50-year lease to collect the tolls, and because it was privately funded, would allow TxDOT to reallocate the $600 million that it would have used to build the starter system to other projects.  After a bit of rancorous debate between TxDOT and ARMA, it was agreed that the private plans would be evaluated with local input. 

Opposition builds; first lawsuit
After word of the toll projects became public, a substantial amount of grassroots opposition, headed by the Texas Toll Party group that had also vehemently opposed Austin area toll projects, started to form.  They showed en masse at an MPO meeting in mid 2005 and managed to get the proposed Loop 1604 West project tabled, at least for the time being.  As one might imagine, these events added some uncertainty to the entire project.  However, TxDOT awarded the construction contract for the US 281 North tollway (Sonterra to Stone Oak) in September 2005 and preparation work for construction began in December 2005.  The opponents filed a lawsuit shortly thereafter challenging the project, arguing that it required a full (and costly) environmental impact statement (EIS) instead of the numerous environmental assessments (EA) that had been performed up to that time.  Federal law only requires an EIS to be performed if an EA finds significant impacts, which the EAs for 281 did not.  However, TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), who were both named in the suit, jointly agreed in January 2006 to suspend work on the 281 tollway project as well as a separate overpass planned at 281 and Borgfeld so that a comprehensive and definitive EA for the entire corridor could be done and a subsequent determination made of whether a full impact statement would need to be performed.

US 281 plan moves forward
In early 2007, the new EA for 281 was released.  As with previous assessments, it found no substantial issues, a so-called "Finding of No Significant Impacts" (FONSI).  The FHWA approved the EA in August 2007.  TxDOT announced plans to cancel the overpass project at Borgfeld as ARMA indicated it was considering building the entire 281 tollway project from 1604 to Borgfeld as one project with construction possibly beginning in 2008.

Other toll project considered
ARMA also completed studies on other possible toll projects on I-35 North, Bandera Road, and Wurzbach Parkway.  In early 2007, ARMA determined that the Wurzbach Pkwy. proposal was not feasible for tolling.  The tolling option for the Bandera Rd. project was dropped by the MPO board in October 2009.

TxDOT announced in mid-2006 that it was considering possible toll lanes along I-10 West from Loop 1604 to Boerne and I-10 East from Loop 410 to Seguin.  Those would be new managed lanes in the median; the existing lanes would remain toll-free.  Subsequent proposals for the I-10 project pulled-back the northern endpoint-- at least for a first phase-- to Leon Springs.

Statewide moratorium passed; ARMA takes over
On June 11th, 2007, after a series of discussions with the Legislature, Governor Perry signed compromise legislation that put a two-year moratorium on the construction of privately financed toll roads.  The bill included a number of exceptions, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas; the 281 and 1604 toll projects in San Antonio were not exempted.  Consequently, on June 15th, ARMA voted to assume control of those projects with plans to fund the projects with toll-backed bonds and begin construction in mid 2008. 

Loop 1604 study
In late June 2007, TxDOT released the results of the EA for the Loop 1604 managed lanes and expansion and showed plans for the proposed improvements.  That EA also had a FONSI outcome.  However, with the threat of legal challenges looming, ARMA decided to move forward with a full EIS for Loop 1604.  That study has experienced a number of scope revisions and now is expected to be complete in 2017.

US 281 project finalized
In December 2007, the MPO approved the toll rates for the US 281 project.  ARMA announced that they would build the 281 project in two segments: Loop 1604 to Marshall Rd. and Marshall Rd. to the Comal county line.  Construction on the first segment, from Loop 1604 to Marshall, was expected to start in mid 2008 with completion in late 2010.  The second segment was expected to be completed in 2012.

Second lawsuit filed
In February 2008, toll opponents and environmentalists once again filed a lawsuit challenging the comprehensive 281 environmental assessment.  After initial arguments, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs' case had sufficient standing to move forward with discovery.  
During the discovery process, TxDOT announced that they found a document that had been inadvertently omitted from the administrative record for the environmental assessment and asked for a 60 day stay to allow time to submit the document to the FHWA for review to determine if it would change the overall findings of the study.  In early October 2008, TxDOT then reported that they had uncovered a conflict of interest with the contractor who had performed the endangered species portion of the study.  Specifically, it was discovered that a TxDOT staff biologist was married to an employee of the company hired to do the a portion of the study.  It was further discovered that the TxDOT employee's supervisor was aware of the situation and allowed it but that controls put in place to mitigate the conflict were not enforced.  Although it was determined that this likely had no impact on the results of the study, TxDOT asked the FHWA to revoke their environmental approval for the project to preempt the inevitable legal battle.  Subsequently, the defendants (TxDOT, ARMA, and the FHWA) agreed to do a full environmental impact statement (EIS) for the corridor and the lawsuit was dismissed as moot in November 2008.  In April 2009, ARMA hired the consultant to develop the new EIS.

ARMA hires consortium
In the meantime, while the legal challenges had been working their way through the system, ARMA had hired Cibolo Creek Infrastructure Joint Venture in May 2008 to design and build the 281 project.  The consortium was headed by Fluor Enterprises of Irving, Texas, and Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Inc. of Atlanta, and included several San Antonio subcontractors.  (Contrary to pervasive public perception, this consortium-- unlike the Cintra-Zachary group-- included no foreign companies.)  Design work was 30% completed when it was stopped in late 2008 due to the aforementioned litigation and subsequent decision to do a full EIS.  ARMA had planned to start construction in late 2008 or early 2009 on the first segment, from Loop 1604 to Marshall Rd., with estimated completion in late 2010.  However, those plans were scrapped pending a new project to be recommended by the environmental impact statement process.

Additions to tollway system plan
In December 2014, the MPO approved an updated plan that includes the previously-planned managed lanes on US 281 North and Loop 1604 as well as newly-proposed managed lanes on I-35 from downtown to FM 1103, I-10 West from Loop 1604 to Boerne, I-10 East from Loop 410 to SH 130, SH 151 from Loop 410 to Loop 1604, and I-37 from SE Military to Fair Ave.

281/1604 southern interchange built
During the Great Recession, Congress approved a national economic "stimulus" plan 
that poured additional federal money into road construction projects.  In February 2009 , 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 the first half of a 281/1604 interchange.  This project built all four of the ramps connecting 1604 to 281 inside the loop, 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 mid 2013.  It was determined that the ramps connecting to 281 north of 1604 could not be built until the lingering issues stemming from the lawsuits and associated environmental studies for 281 north of 1604 were resolved.  However, funding was identified for those ramps so that construction could begin as soon as the legal and environmental issues were resolved. 
New managed lanes plan for US 281
In May 2012, local officials announced they had identified funding to construct expressway lanes on US 281 from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Pkwy and on Loop 1604 from Bandera Rd. to Wiseman Blvd.  The working plan for US 281 included two to three toll-free expressway lanes in each direction and one or two tolled managed lanes.  The managed lanes would include direct access to a park and ride facility being planned for the corridor.  It was hoped that construction would begin sometime in 2014 or 2015 once the ongoing environmental study of the corridor was complete and approved and barring any further legal challenges.

Loop 1604 projects
Over on Loop 1604, plans were announced to build two toll-free expressway lanes in each direction from Braun to Potranco with room left for future toll lanes (essentially a southward extension of the existing freeway configuration at Bandera Rd.) once the current environmental study was complete in 2015.  Additional plans are being developed to add managed toll lanes to the existing non-toll lanes on Loop 1604 across the northside.

New toll funding plan
In January 2014, TxDOT and ARMA announced funding had been secured to expand US 281 from Loop 1604 to Borgfeld Rd. using a mix of non-tolled and tolled/managed lanes.  Some funding would come from traditional tax-funded sources with the remainder coming from bonds backed by toll revenue.  Funding was also allocated-- mostly from a City of San Antonio bond issue-- to complete the northern ramps for the Loop 1604 interchange; as with the previously completed ramps in the interchange, these new ramps will also be non-tolled.
 With funding now in hand for the entire corridor, construction was expected to start in late 2015 or early 2016 contingent on the approval of an environment study that was scheduled to be complete in mid 2015.  The funding for 281 was part of a larger financing package that included funds for proposed managed lanes on I-10 West from Loop 1604 to Ralph Fair Rd. and for non-tolled expressway lanes on Loop 1604 from SH 151 to US 90. 
In the summer of 2015, TxDOT submitted and the FHWA approved the completed environmental impact statement for the US 281 project.

Legislature approves new funding sources
Then, during its session in early 2015, the Texas Legislature approved a new funding source for highways that will allocate approximately $2.5 billion from sales taxes and motor vehicle sales taxes annually to highways.  During the summer of 2015, several local officials indicated that should voters pass the new financing and the expected funding then be allocated by the state, efforts would be made to remove the toll component from the US 281 project.  In early September 2015, the MPO approved a resolution to that effect and the Texas Transportation Commission approved the funding change later that month.  In November 2015, voters approved the new funding source and officials announced shortly thereafter that the plans for 281 would be updated to remove the toll component with an expected groundbreaking in 2017.  The Loop 1604 project, because of its scope and expense (nearly $1 billion), is still being planned as a toll project.

For more information on the history of the US 281 project and current plans, see the US 281 North Expansion Project page.

For more information on the history of the Loop 1604 project and current plans, see the Loop 1604 Managed Lanes Project page.

Other sites of interest

Alamo Regional Mobility Authority
The 4-1-1 on 281
More for Loop 1604

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

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.