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Bandera Road (Leon Valley) Study

This page last updated February 23, 2024

Engineer

The proposals on this page are still in development


The cities of San Antonio and Leon Valley and the Texas Department of Transportation are currently in the midst of a years-long study to determine how to improve this section of Bandera Rd. As a result, the details discussed below are subject to change.

This page includes details about previous concepts that are no longer being considered in order to provide context and background to the ongoing studies.


SH 16 RCUT sign

Looking for information on the RCUTs project in Helotes? See the Bandera Rd. RCUTs Helotes project page.

Bandera Road (SH 16) between Loops 410 and 1604 in Leon Valley and Northwest San Antonio is one of the most congested roads in the region. About 70,000 vehicles a day use the southern half of the route, and about 40,000 use the northern half. To put that into perspective, the section of Loop 410 on the South Side between I‑35 and I‑37 carries about 50,000 vehicles per day, and the stretch of Loop 1604 between SH 151 and US 90 carries less than 40,000 vehicles per day. So improvements to Bandera Road are urgently needed and have been for decades, but the road has languished with only a few minor improvements since the mid '80s.

The problem hasn't been that officials haven't recognized this need; a freeway was actually planned for Bandera Rd. during the 1950s and 60s, and more recently, there have been at least seven studies and proposals to upgrade Bandera Rd. over the past three decades. The biggest snag has been finding improvements that are amenable to the City of Leon Valley. A flyover proposal by TxDOT back around 1990 was shot down by Leon Valley leaders, and an alternative plan that proposed building an elevated highway along Leon Creek and bypassing Leon Valley altogether also was nixed for other reasons. This schism has resulted in the repeated stalling of efforts to make major improvements to Bandera Rd.

In 2009, the Alamo Area Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) included Bandera Rd. in their regional toll system plan. The conceptual proposal was an elevated tollway along the length of Bandera between the loops. However, subsequent feasibility studies — and simmering opposition from several constituencies — scuttled that plan. TxDOT subsequently took over studying other options to relieve congestion in the corridor.



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Current planning

As discussed above, various agencies have been studying a number of options to reduce congestion and improve safety on Bandera Rd. for many years. In 2018, the City of San Antonio joined those ongoing Bandera Rd. planning efforts and launched a "community planning process" to develop a overarching plan for transportation, land use, urban design, and economic development along Bandera Rd. The first public meeting in this combined planning effort was held April 29th, 2019, with additional meetings held in December 2019, June 2021, and October 2022.

Traffic study
In order to determine the best options for improvements, TxDOT studied traffic patterns along the corridor and identified three major traffic movements that need to be addressed:

Cross-traffic movements on Bandera Rd.

Major cross-traffic movements on Bandera Rd.

These cross-traffic movements create two unique problems:

The traffic study also looked at projected traffic volumes through the year 2047, which showed increases of around 40% south of Braun to over 85% north of there.

Options evaluated
With those traffic patterns in mind, several options were evaluated:

After the initial study, the options were winnowed down and refined to four:

TxDOT branded all the options except the boulevard as "parkway" options, meaning that in addition to expansion, efforts would be made to beautify the corridor. (The boulevard proposal would also include beautification efforts, although they would be more limited than the other options due to the tight right-of-way.) All the options would also consolidate driveways and median crossovers.

After further study, the study participants settled on the RCUT plan as the preferred option as it met the needs of congestion relief, safety improvement, and ancillary aesthetic, pedestrian, and bicycle enhancements at a reasonable (and more quickly attainable) cost.

With that decision, the next steps will be to finalize formal buy-in from the stakeholders, then move to advanced design and planning, environmental study and clearance, and final engineering. At the same time, efforts will be made to identify funding as there is currently none earmarked for this project. If all goes perfectly, construction could begin around 2024 and be complete around 2027, but it's more likely to be a couple or few years beyond that.

Travel time comparison table
Travel time comparison table

Projected 2047 travel time comparisons for the various options
* Morning (AM) peak period is from 6 am to 9 am. Afternoon (PM) peak period is from 4 pm to 7 pm
** The good No-build travel time on the Guilbeau Road to Eckhert Road (AM) segment is due to bottlenecking north of Guilbeau Road, which limits the volume of traffic that can reach this segment of SH 16 in the AM peak period, thus reducing congestion there.
(Source: TxDOT)


RCUT proposal

Of the four options studied, the RCUT concept was selected in 2022 as the preferred option to carry forward. This would convert the nearly all of the signalized intersections on Bandera Rd. to Restricted Crossing U-Turn (RCUT) intersections, add signalized turnarounds at multiple intermediate locations, close all of the unsignalized crossovers, and eliminate the signalized intersections at Reindeer Trail and Poss Rd. — they would become "right-in, right-out" intersections.

This plan would also widen Bandera to four lanes in each direction, consolidate many of the driveways along the corridor, add pedestrian and bicycle amenities, and add curbs and storm drains.

The RCUT intersections will prevent traffic on the intersecting roads from going straight or turning left. Instead, all traffic will make a right turn, then use a signalized turnaround typically 1000 or so feet downstream to make a U-turn and continue in the intended direction of travel. Left turns from Bandera Rd. to those cross streets will still be allowed.

An RCUT intersection is also known as a "superstreet".

RCUT intersection schematic

Typical RCUT intersection

How this will help
Most of the intersections on Bandera experience moderate to severe recurring congestion during rush hours and, in many cases, at other times during the day and on weekends. This is due to the need for the signals to service five to six separate movements per cycle. With an RCUT, by forcing traffic on the cross streets to turn right, this will overlap that traffic with the corresponding left turn from Bandera. This will eliminate the need for discrete green time for the left turn and straight-through movements from those streets, resulting in just two movements to be serviced per signal cycle. The green time that would have been needed for the three to four other movements can instead be allocated to the remaining movements, which therefore will allow more traffic through the intersection in the same period of time, thus significantly reducing wait times and congestion.

Ah ha!

If all of that sounds like technical gibberish, here's another way of explaining it:

At the conventional intersection, drivers who arrive as the light turns red have to wait for three or four other directions to get a green light before their light turns green again. At an RCUT intersection, drivers only have to wait for one signal change before they get a green again. Drivers then needing to use the turnaround may have to subsequently wait for one more signal change, but that's still less than before.

Additionally, with an RCUT, each half of the intersection operates independently of the other, so the signals along each direction of Bandera Rd. can be timed separately from the other direction, which means better coordination and synchronization are possible.

Modeling showed that this configuration is expected to provide good long-term congestion relief based on 25-year traffic projections.

RCUTs have also been proven to improve safety. A study for the North Carolina DOT showed that RCUTs reduced traffic collisions by 46% and decreased crashes with injuries by 63%. A study of RCUT intersections in Missouri showed a 54% reduction in injury and fatal crashes. Many people predicted mayhem at the Bandera/1604 displaced left turn intersection, but, despite higher traffic volumes in 2021, the number of crashes was less than half of the number in 2017.

Example Signal Timings
  • The whole pie below represents the time for a full signal cycle.
  • The pieces of the pie show the proportion of green time each movement gets during each cycle.
  • Left/right arrows represent Bandera Rd. traffic.
  • With an RCUT, all the movements except the through movements on Bandera get combined, and, in this example, are combined into the biggest piece of the pie from the conventional intersection. After doing so, that slice can (and probably will) be increased as needed to better accommodate those turning movements, and even after doing so, everyone still gets more green time than they had in the conventional intersection.
  • Current timing splits are approximate as they change during the day, but are typical.
  • Finally, in an RCUT, the signals on each side of Bandera Rd. can be timed independently of the other, and thus would be two separate pies, so the RCUT chart below combines both directions for simplicity.
Current
Current signal phasing pie chart
RCUT
RCUT signal phasing pie chart

Left/right arrows represents Bandera Rd. traffic
The other arrows represent the other intersection movements relative to Bandera Rd.

SH 16 RCUT sign

For a deeper dive on how an RCUT functions and how it improves traffic flow, see the main Restricted Crossing U‑turn intersections page.

Schematic
Click on the image below to open the detailed conceptual schematic for this project from TxDOT. The schematic will open in a new window that you can scroll and zoom. Since this is a CONCEPTUAL schematic, it will almost surely change.

Schematic thumbnail

Click above to see the detailed conceptual schematic for this project


Flyover and boulevard proposals

As with previous flyover proposals, the more recent flyover proposals generated controversy in Leon Valley. Chief among the concerns of many leaders and residents there is that a flyover would speed traffic through the suburb and, it is asserted, would speed drivers past the businesses along Bandera, thus negatively affecting them. These businesses, of course, comprise an outsized portion of that city's tax base, so their concern is understandable. (Of course, congestion also negatively impacts those businesses, perhaps even more than a flyover would. Research shows a 10% reduction in average travel speeds in a corridor can result in a 20% loss of market area for nearby businesses.)

Additionally, there was great concern about the aesthetics of an elevated road, specifically that it would be unsightly and create a visual barrier that would divide the city and negatively impact property values. There was also angst about the noise that an elevated road would generate.

UTSA study
With the flyover proposal causing consternation, Leon Valley enlisted the assistance of UTSA's Center for Urban and Regional Planning Research and the Institute for Economic Development to look at options for Bandera Rd. that could reduce congestion without the harmful effects.

After researching other concepts, they developed a proposal for what is known as a "multi-way boulevard." As envisioned, this would be a 10 lane at-grade thoroughfare with signalized intersections in the same locations as today. The 10 lanes would include three main through lanes in each direction with two parallel frontage lanes on each side. The frontage lanes would be built in the area used today for the drainage culverts on the side of the road and would be physically separated from the through lanes by landscaped traffic islands. Just like the frontage roads along a freeway, the frontage lanes in this concept would provide access to adjacent properties, and would be the location for sidewalks, bus stops, and bike lanes. Traffic would move between the through lanes and frontage lanes via slip ramps located between intersections, just like smaller versions of the entrance and exit ramps from access roads to freeways.

Boulevard cross-section

Cross-section of proposed boulevard concept

The report listed the expected benefits of the boulevard concept as follows:

While the flyover proposal would require about 11 acres of additional right-of-way, the boulevard proposal would require about 30 acres of additional right-of-way.

Other multi-way boulevards
There are several examples of multi-way boulevards in the US including Queens Blvd. and Ocean Pkwy. in New York City, Octavia Blvd. in San Francisco, and Bothell Way in Bothell, Washington. There is even a smaller-scale example here in San Antonio: Verano Pkwy. on the Texas A&M-San Antonio campus on the South Side. All of these examples include on-street parking, however, which the Bandera proposals would not.

Impact on property values
In addition to traffic, access, and aesthetic considerations, UTSA's Institute of Economic Development was asked to study the effect an elevated road might have on property values. Unfortunately, there's a dearth of direct data on the subject. However, data was available on the impact when elevated freeways were torn-down. This data showed that doing so resulted in a substantial increase in adjacent property values. Based on that, UTSA's researchers extrapolated that building an elevated expressway through Leon Valley would result in an equally inverse decrease in property values.

(COMMENTARY: I get that there wasn't an easy way to determine this, but that seems to be an overly simplistic inference as there are many other variables and factors that would likely have played into the increased property values. To be fair, it would require much more extensive study to identify and control for those factors. But it is also well-known that improved access typically leads to an increase in property values. Furthermore, my own cursory analysis of several random properties in the shadow of the current flyover in the vicinity of Bandera and Wurzbach show that almost all of them increased in value over a five year window at roughly the same rate as other properties further down Bandera in Leon Valley. Again, to be fair, I was not able to compare the property values immediately before and after the flyovers were built nor do an extensive analysis. In closing, normally I would present the study's findings without editorial, but I felt these points needed to made. Reasonable people can disagree on this, and your mileage may vary.)

There is also evidence that increasing the walkability of an area increases adjacent property values.

Caveats
UTSA's researchers admitted that the boulevard proposal, while adding capacity, is not likely to solve congestion issues, which TxDOT's subsequent analysis and modeling confirmed. Instead, it takes a more holistic view by making roadway improvements while further considering additional transportation modes, adjacent land uses, and economic impacts. In conjunction with the boulevard plan, UTSA's team also emphasized the need for expansion of other nearby roadways as well as the overall road network itself, which TxDOT's subsequent study also noted.

There's nothing new under the sun
As an interesting footnote, this is not the first time a boulevard plan has been proposed as an alternative for this general corridor. A proposal for a Bandera/Culebra expressway on the West Side in the 1970s was met by a counter-proposal from San Antonio Mayor John Gatti for an "avenida", a concept described as a wide boulevard with bus lanes.

Boulevard/flyover animation

Animation illustrating both the "flyover" and "boulevard" proposals.
This is at Bandera and Huebner looking north.
(Images courtesy of UTSA and the City of Leon Valley)

Renderings
Below are selected renderings created by UTSA of both the flyover and boulevard proposals. These renderings are only for illustrative purposes and don't represent any actual plans.

A sincere thank you goes to the UTSA Center for Urban and Regional Planning Research and the City of Leon Valley for making these available.

Boulevard/flyover rendering

Bandera and Seneca: Flyover

Boulevard/flyover rendering

Bandera and Seneca: Boulevard

Boulevard/flyover rendering

Bandera and Seneca: Flyover

Boulevard/flyover rendering

Bandera and Seneca: Boulevard

Boulevard/flyover rendering

Bandera and Huebner: Flyover

Boulevard/flyover rendering

Bandera and Huebner: Boulevard

Boulevard/flyover rendering

Bandera and Huebner: Flyover

Boulevard/flyover rendering

Bandera and Huebner: Boulevard

Boulevard/flyover rendering

Bandera and Huebner: Boulevard

Boulevard/flyover rendering

Bandera and Eckhert: Flyover


FAQ

Below are some frequently-asked questions and comments about this corridor.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the following for their assistance in providing information about these proposals:


Other sites of interest

City of San Antonio - Bandera Road Corridor Plan
https://www.sanantonio.gov/planning/bandera-road-corridor-plan
TxDOT - SH 16 (Bandera Road) from I‑410 to Loop 1604
https://www.txdot.gov/projects/projects-studies/san-antonio/sh16-bandera-road-i410-loop1604.html