This page last updated February 16, 2024
On the morning of June 9th, 2008, the final two ramps in the new $154.7 million, fully-directional interchange at US 281 and Loop 410 next to San Antonio International Airport opened, marking the welcome end of an era in San Antonio's freeway history.
Prior to the interchange's construction, motorists wanting to go from Loop 410 to US 281 or vice-versa were left to navigate overburdened surface street and access road connections. This intersection was often cited as the only place in Texas where two major urban freeways crossed without direct connections between them. As a result, traffic frequently queued on Airport Blvd. and the westbound 410 access road as drivers negotiated their way between the freeways. Only one of the turns required no interaction with a traffic signal; all of the remaining directions required motorists to pass through at least one signalized intersection. While many people simply blamed this traffic nightmare on poor planning, the real story, as is often the case, is not that simple.
When planning for the North Expressway (US 281) was going on in the late '50s and early '60s, there were heated debates and lawsuits over the route that the new freeway should take. After evaluating several routes including San Pedro, McCullough, and Broadway, a route skirting Brackenridge Park, slipping between the Zoo and Alamo Stadium, and continuing north over the Olmos Basin was chosen. This route also caused great protest, but construction on the northern and southern thirds of the freeway was allowed to start while the controversial middle section was litigated and re-evaluated.
Opponents of the route eventually won a federal ruling halting construction on the grounds that the freeway violated a then-new federal rule prohibiting freeways from crossing parklands. At this point, the project appeared dead. At the time, the City of San Antonio, which had been charged with obtaining the right-of-way for the project, was in the midst of acquiring land for a planned 410/281 interchange. Since the freeway now seemed doomed, the city had no choice but to abandon the right-of-way acquisition. As a result, new buildings sprang-up at the interchange site almost overnight. A few years later, Congress passed a law that allowed the city and state to build the freeway without federal funding. But by this time, the cost of the land for an interchange had become prohibitively expensive and so the interchange was scrapped. (For more information on the tumultuous history of 281, see the US 281 North page.)
Initially, traffic volumes were low enough to allow relatively easy access between the freeways using access roads and adjacent surface streets. By the late '80s, however, traffic volumes began to severely overload this arrangement. To fix the problem, TxDOT began design work on a four-level interchange. Several preparatory projects in the vicinity were undertaken in the mid and late '90s including the widening 410 between McCullough and Jones-Maltsberger and the placement of most of the foundations and pedestals for the future flyover piers along that stretch. The US 281 overpasses over Loop 410 were also rebuilt, and a couple of strategic turnarounds were added. Additionally, a ramp from northbound US 281 directly into the airport terminal area was built. This ramp was proposed and funded separately by the airport and the FAA and was inserted into the overall interchange construction plan by TxDOT.
After several years of uncertainty over funding, the state finally funded the entire project in late 2004. The project was originally scheduled to be built in five phases over ten years. However, new funding mechanisms from the legislature allowed the phases to be combined, saving a considerable amount of time and money. That consolidated project — the largest single highway construction project ever awarded in San Antonio up to that time — was then projected to take five years to build, but the contractor promised to build it in just over three years. Work continued almost non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the first ramp to be completed, from 281 southbound to 410 westbound, opened to traffic on the afternoon of June 18th, 2007. Several additional ramps opened in the months thereafter, and the final two ramps — from both directions of US 281 to eastbound Loop 410 — opened less than a year later on the morning of June 9th, 2008, marking the end of the storied non-interchange.