Antonio Area Freeway System
Highway 281 North (Walter McAllister
|This page last
updated March 14, 2014
||This page covers
US 281 north of downtown San Antonio from the I-35 interchange to
Sonterra Blvd. US 281 continues south of downtown concurrent
(multiplexed) with I-37.
looking for more information on the US 281 "superstreet"?
See the superstreets
On this page
This freeway is the
backbone for the San Antonio's booming North-Central area. The route serves
Trinity University, the University of the Incarnate Word, Brackenridge Park,
the San Antonio Zoo, Alamo Stadium, The Quarry and Lincoln Heights
developments, San Antonio International Airport, and the Stone Oak area, as
well as the suburban cities of Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, Hollywood Park, and
Hill Country Village.
Traveling outbound from
downtown, 281 snakes around the southern edge of the Brackenridge Golf Course
before shoehorning between the San Antonio Zoo and Alamo Stadium. Continuing
north, the freeway crosses the Olmos Dam and sails over the wooded Olmos Park
and flood control basin. North of Basse, the landscape becomes increasingly
suburban in character, and maximum commercial development is achieved near San
Antonio International Airport at Loop 410 all the way to 1604. The freeway
ends just north of 1604 and becomes a divided highway continuing into the
booming hinterland areas of northern Bexar County and Bulverde.
This section of freeway
is sometimes mistakenly called I-37. However, I-37 begins at I-35 on the
northeastern corner of downtown and runs south from there.
US 281's intersection at
Loop 1604 currently lacks a fully directional interchange. Prior to November
2012, traffic destined for Loop 1604 was required to exit onto access roads and
traverse an overburdened three-level interchange. However, the first phase of
a five-level interchange opened in November 2012 and provided direct
connections from US 281 northbound to both directions of Loop 1604. Ramps from
Loop 1604 to southbound US 281 are due to open in early 2013. Construction on
the northern half of the interchange cannot begin until an environmental study
of US 281 north of 1604 is complete sometime in 2014. However, funding for
that part of the interchange project has already been secured.
After over 30 years
without direct connectors, a four-level interchange at Loop 410 was completed
in June 2008.
Click here for a schematic of
US 281 North.
- 8 lanes
from I-35 to St. Mary's
- 6 lanes
from St. Mary's to Hildebrand
- 8 lanes
from Hildebrand to Jones-Maltsberger (Quarry)
- 6 lanes
from Jones-Maltsberger (Quarry) to Isom
- 7 lanes
(4 inbound, 3 outbound) from Isom to Oak Shadows
- 8 lanes
from Oak Shadows to Donella
- 6 lanes
from Donella to Sonterra
- No continuous
access roads from I-35 to Loop 410, with the exception of short
sections of access road southbound from Loop 410 to Sunset and
northbound from Parkridge to Loop 410.
access roads remainder of route except through San Pedro
Click here for a list of US 281
- 60mph from I-35 to Hildebrand
- 65 mph
from Hildebrand to Sonterra
|SPECIAL FEATURES & NOTES
- TransGuide coverage from I-35 to Nakoma
left exit to northbound I-35
left exit to Loop 1604
directional interchange at Loop 1604
- Winding and
scenic route from I-35 to Basse
- Landing lights
for a runway at San Antonio International Airport cross over the
freeway on a truss just south of Nakoma
along entire route. Regular morning peak congestion occurs inbound
from Bitters to Loop 410 and from Hildebrand to I-35. Regular
afternoon peak-period congestion occurs outbound between I-35 and Basse
and from Nakoma to Sonterra.
have increased substantially throughout most of the corridor over the
past decade. Traffic counts just outside Loop 1604 more than doubled
from a piddling 24,000 in 1990 to 51,000 in 2000 and then again to
105,000 in 2006 ranking it as the eighth fastest growing count in the
city since 2001.
|AVERAGE ANNUAL DAILY
Click here for photos and video of this
In conjunction with the
Wurzbach Parkway project, the following
improvements are being made to US 281:
- The current
northbound exit for Bitters will be reduced from two lanes to one,
moved south to under the Nakoma overpass, and will become the exit for
- A new exit ramp for
Bitters will be constructed at the same location as the current
northbound entrance ramp from Nakoma (near Country Pkwy., or about 700
yards south of Bitters). This ramp will be built above the existing
entrance ramp (i.e. a "braided" ramp).
- The existing
southbound entrance ramp from Bitters will be reversed to become the
southbound exit for Wurzbach and Nakoma.
- The existing
southbound exit ramp for Nakoma will be reversed to become the
southbound entrance from Wurzbach and Bitters.
- A new turnaround
will be constructed at Nakoma for southbound to northbound
- The overpass at
Bitters will be widened and US 281 northbound will be restriped to four
lanes from Nakoma through Bitters.
Click here for an overview
map showing the locations of these improvements. These improvements are also
included on the US 281 North schematic page.
These improvements are
scheduled to be complete in mid 2014.
An extension of the
freeway north of Loop 1604 to Stone Oak was scheduled to start in 2003 but was
postponed due to funding constraints caused by a sudden increase in
construction costs. Shortly thereafter, the Transportation Commission required
that all new expressway projects be evaluated as toll projects. Persuant to
that, TxDOT decided to build the new expressway north of 1604 as a tollway.
That plan, along with the previously planned overpass at Borgfeld, was
suspended in 2006 pending federal approval of a new environmental assessment
resulting from litigation from toll road opponents. That new assessment,
released in early 2007, showed no significant impacts. The Federal Highway
Administration approved the new assessment on August 14th, 2007, and authorized
TxDOT to build the entire 281 tollway in Bexar County from 1604 to Borgfeld,
which TxDOT and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) then planned to do
as a two phase project. However, toll opponents again filed a lawsuit in
February 2008 challenging the the results of the latest environmental study.
As a result of that lawsuit, the Federal Highway Administration rescinded its
prior approvals and directed ARMA to perform a more comprehensive environmental
impact statement before any expansion project can be built. It is expected
that study will be completed in 2014.
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 is building 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 is expected to be complete 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. However, funding has already been set aside for those
ramps so that construction can begin as soon as the legal and environmental
issues are resolved. For more information on the 281/1604 interchange, click here.
October 2010, work was completed to upgrade 281 to a "superstreet" from Encino
Rio to Marshall. Under the plan, the intersections of Encino Rio, Evans, Stone
Oak, and Marshall were redesigned to eliminate straight-through and left-turn
movements on those intersecting roadways. This configuration helped relieve
overall congestion in the area because it reduced traffic signal cycles at each
intersection from five or six phases to just two, thus allowing additional
green time for 281 traffic. This proposal is considered a short-term
"band-aid" until the environmental studies for a more significant upgrade of
281 are complete. See the superstreets
page for more information.
US 281 opened to traffic
on February 7, 1978 and was certified on September 11, 1978. Named for Walter
McAllister, San Antonio's mayor when the freeway was proposed. McAllister was
influential in getting the freeway built. Was originally called the "North
This highway was one of
the most controversial freeway projects in US history. It was widely
acknowledged by the early '50s that the city needed a north-central freeway and
planning for the route had quietly begun by 1955. By 1960, several routes for
the North Expressway were being considered: San Pedro, McCullough, and
Broadway. The San Pedro route was dismissed because it did not provide access
to San Antonio International Airport. The Broadway route would require too
much expensive right-of-way to be acquired. The McCullough route was also too
expensive. So a route midway between Broadway and McCullough that wound around
Brackenridge Park (clipping-off a corner of the golf course), through the
suburb of Olmos Park, and over the Olmos flood control basin was selected. The
City of Olmos Park blocked that route though, so the Texas Highway Department
chose an alternate route that skirted around the eastern edge of the suburb.
The route ran between Alamo Stadium, the Sunken Gardens and the San Antonio
Zoo. On January 10, 1961, San Antonio voters approved a bond issue to purchase
land to replace the parkland that would be taken for the freeway. There was,
however, heated debate over this routing as well. The protests by
conservationists and preservationists centered on the "Yarborough Rule"-- a
caveat in federal highway funding rules prohibiting the taking of parklands for
highways. The section of the freeway skirting Olmos Park would run through the
Olmos flood control basin, a wooded area viewed as "parkland" by many. In
1969, after years of protests and legal wrangling by the San Antonio
Conservation Society, work began on the undisputed southern and northern thirds
of the freeway while the debate over the routing of the center section
continued. In May of 1971, construction on the whole project was halted by a
federal court, which also revoked the project's federal funding. This delay
caused problems for the City, which was trying to secure the land for a planned
interchange at Loop 410. In 1972, the US Supreme Court upheld the lower
court's injunction and it appeared that the North Expressway was dead.
However, in 1973, Senators John Tower and Lloyd Bentsen sponsored legislation
which would allow the City and State to build the freeway without federal
money. The legislation passed both houses of Congress and was upheld by a US
District Court on December 10, 1973, removing all federal involvement in the
project and allowing the City and State to go it alone. Work resumed on the
project's stalled northern and southern segments within 24 hours of the
ruling. A last-ditch court challenge suspended the project for five more
months in mid-1974, but that case was dismissed and work started on the
controversial center section on November 13, 1974. The freeway opened on
February 7, 1978, and in 1981 was named by the American Association of State
Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) as one of the nation's three most
attractive urban freeways.
The freeway originally
extended to just north of the Airport at Bitters. From there northward it was
a four lane divided highway. In 1987, a project to upgrade the section from
Bitters to just north of Loop 1604 was started. This project tested several
innovative traffic-handling methods during construction which actually made for
smoother traffic flow during the construction than before. (Those
traffic-handling techniques are very similar to the proposed "super-street"
plans for 281 north of 1604.) Even more spectacular: the five mile project was
finished in a record 24 months.
TransGuide coverage was
added south of St. Mary's in 1995 and between St. Mary's and Basse in October,
The Sonterra overpass was
built in the late '80s in conjunction with the freeway extension project and
was used by construction vehicles during the freeway project. However, no road
connected to it at that time, so it was left unused for a decade after the
construction was complete. Sonterra Blvd. was finally extended to the bridge
in April 2000.
Well north of this
segment, the overpass at FM 1863 in Bulverde was completed in 2000.
The ramp leading from
northbound 281 into the airport complex opened on June 29, 2001.
In early 2004, an
additional lane in each direction for most of the route between San Pedro and
Loop 1604 was added by restriping the roadway and eliminating the inner
shoulder. The same technique was used in mid-2006 to add an extra lane in each
direction from Jones-Maltsberger near the Quarry south to Hildebrand as part of
the 281/410 interchange project.
In late 2004, work began
on clearing the right-of-way for the tolled extension of 281 north of 1604 to
Stone Oak Parkway. A lawsuit by opponents of the project halted work in
January 2005. (More information about this project is at the US 281 North Tollway Project page.)
The first ramp in the
281/410 interchange opened to traffic on June 18th, 2007 and the final ramps
were open to traffic on June 9th, 2008. The interchange project also added
additional lanes between Loop 410 and Nakoma and extended TransGuide coverage
from Basse to Nakoma. (Also see the History of the
US 281/Loop 410 interchange page.)
The first ramps in the
281/1604 interchange opened on November 8, 2012.