211 is a mostly
two-lane rural arterial in far western Bexar County. Initially
1986 to provide access to the now-defunct Texas Research Park, this
today is fast becoming an outer beltline connecting burgeoning
subdivisions and commerical development as San Antonio's urbanization
marches westward into Medina County. While the first two end segments
were able to be quickly built around 1990, the middle segment
languished for three decades due to right-of-way acquisition issues,
then later due to environmental constraints, before finally opening in
page discusses the current construction projects and future plans for
the route as well as its complicated history.
Current construction and future
Culebra-Potranco segment opened to traffic on 11/14/22
As discussed in the history section below, challenges in obtaining
right-of-way and funding stalled construction of the Culebra-Potranco segment of SH
211 for nearly two decades. With growth exploding in far western Bexar
County, officials began working again in 2007 to acquire the necessary
right-of-way and funding for that missing middle segment. Due to state
highway funding limitations at the time, Bexar County and the Texas
Transportation Commission approved a "pass-through" financing agreement
in late 2009 whereby Bexar County would build the missing segment and
be reimbursed by the state over several years.
While planning was underway for the middle segment, several karst
species and habitat in the area were added to federal endangered
species protection, and the number of protected historic properties in
the area increased. This required an expanded environmental study and a
realignment of portions of the route to avoid those features. That
expanded study and the required engineering associated with the route
adjustments, along with renewed difficulties in obtaining right-of-way,
caused the planned start date to slip several times and also resulted
in a narrower right-of-way being acquired for most of this segment than
But the stars finally aligned, and finally, on November 10, 2020, a
construction contract for the middle segment was awarded by Bexar
County. Work began in early 2021 and the road opened to traffic
on November 14, 2022.
of Culebra-Potranco section shortly after opening
Q: Why was the new
segment built with only one lane in each direction? A:
There are several issues coming into play that drove this decision. The
first is funding. When efforts restarted around 2007 to get this
segment built, TxDOT had severe funding limitations and did
not have the resources to build this section. To help expedite the
process, Bexar County chose to take the project on under a
"pass-through" funding agreement with the state, whereby the county
would fund the project and the state
would repay the county over several years after completion. This
limited what that could reasonably be built.
The second consideration
was projected traffic. For a new road, expected initial traffic
volumes are generally what are used to size the inaugural road.
Based on those projections, a two-lane road was stipulated by city and
as mentioned above, several environmental constraints were identified
along this segment. In order to fit within those constraints and within
the available budget, a smaller footprint was required.
Yes, planners understand that a two-lane roadway will likely (although
be inadequate in the not-too-distant future, but getting a corridor
and open is the first step. Then, when traffic volumes and patterns
materialize that can be quantified and analyzed, appropriate
improvements and expansions can then be
undertaken. Fortunately, after
recent substantial increases in funding, TxDOT should have the
resources to address those future needs. And, this also means that as
new development comes online, developers will pay some of the costs for
those future improvements.
this approach, planners don't have to guess at what might be needed and
possibly waste money to build something unnecessary.
planning is a bit of a chicken-and-egg exercise, and state
and federal requirements to empirically justify the need for
expenditures will always result in incremental and sometimes disjointed
improvements. While not
always ideal, this approach is necessary to safeguard appropriate
stewardship of public funds and ensure a balanced approach to address
the plethora of needs.
an analogy that may help: If you're homeless and come into just enough
money to buy a one bedroom home, do you not buy it just because you
expect to have a couple of kids in a few years? Of course not. Instead,
you get what you can afford now, then save up or otherwise plan how to
add-on to the house when it's needed later on.
the risk of beating a dead horse, there's a more "nuts-and-bolts" way to
look at this by considering the possible traffic generators here. Doing
so, we see there is a large cluster of subdivisions and some commercial destinations in the Potranco/211
area, there is a large cluster of subdivisions along Culebra inside 211, and then
just about nothing in between or further north.
So let's look at Potranco first--
how many people living in that area are going to want to go north on 211?
Probably just about none because there's really nothing to the north
for them to want or need to go to-- no major employers, shopping,
colleges, medical facilities, etc.
So then we look at how many
people living in the Culebra area will want to go south. Until the HEB at
Culebra and 211 is built, there may be a few who decide to go to the
one at Potranco and 211 since it may be faster to get there (and maybe
less crowded) than the one at Culebra and 1604. But is that enough to
warrant additional lanes on 211? Almost certainly not.
also be some folks living along Culebra (or further north) who work in the
Potranco area, say at the Citibank facility, and will use 211 to get
there Again, probably not enough to need more lanes.
biggest cohort is probably people along Culebra (or further north) who
will opt to use 211 to get to 90 to go to Lackland or downtown. But,
there's no way to really know how many people will do that--
time will tell, so they have to wait it out and see what materializes.
yes, there is a sign announcing a planned 2,500 home subdivision (Westridge)
south of Tamaron Valley, but that is several years from having a level
of build-out that would appreciably impact traffic on 211. There are
currently no utilities to the site, and the first homesites are not
expected to be available until late 2023.
it have been nice to have four lanes along here? Absolutely. Would it
have been nice to have a six lane freeway? Of course. Is what was built
better than nothing? I guess you can decide for yourself, but IMO, this
adage sums it up best:
"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."
New section of SH 211
between Culebra Rd. and Potranco Rd. near Tamaron Valley prior to
opening (Photo by
Potranco-US 90 improvements
TxDOT is currently studying possible improvements to this section of SH
211 to accommodate increasing traffic. As this study has just recently
started, there are no firm plans yet, but an expansion to a four-lane
divided highway is currently the leading possibility, and TxDOT
has preliminary schematics for such an expansion already
developed. A separate project on US 90
will reconfigure the interchange with SH 211 there.
Culebra-SH 211 interchange
A project now underway to widen Culebra Rd. from Galm Rd.
to SH 211 will also construct an overpass
and interchange for SH
211 (see schematic below.)
SH 211/FM 471 interchange
Click on the image above to open a larger annotated view that you can
zoom and scroll (Base image
from TxDOT - Annotations are my own)
While the concept of a
north-south highway in far western Bexar County has been around since
the late 1960s, it wasn't until the mid '80s that an actual need for
such a road materialized. In 1986, land was donated for the now mostly-defunct
Research Park, a planned campus of biomedical research organizations
and pharmaceutical companies in far western Bexar County just off FM
1957 (Potranco Rd.) At the time, this location was accessible only by
local leaders knew that to make it successful, they would need better
access. So taking their cue from
the then recently-built SH 151
where the land for the road was entirely donated, officials lined-up
donated land to build a road from US 90 to Potranco Rd. The State
Dept. of Highways and Public
Transportation (now TxDOT) accepted the land and, recognizing
the likely future need for a longer beltline in the area, a route from
US 90 all the way to SH 16 was proposed and approved in 1986
designated as SH 211. The segment from US 90 to
Potranco opened in 1990 as a two-lane rural
highway, but enough right-of-way was acquired to eventually widen it to
freeway if and when needed.
Second segment built, but middle
Using donated land once more, the segment from FM 471
(Culebra Rd.) north to SH 16 (Bandera Rd.) was
quickly completed in 1991. However, some land owners along the proposed
between Culebra Rd. and Potranco Rd. opted not to donate their land.
agreement with the state, land for the project was required to either
be donated or purchased by Bexar and Medina counties, neither of which
had the funds to do so. And given that there
was no significant need for the route at that time, there was
no political will to allocate that funding nor engage in the
condemnation process that would be needed to force the acquisition.
This resulted in
to acquire the right-of-way for that section to stall,
leaving a gap in the route. However, that
section remained in the City of San Antonio's major
thoroughfare plan to preserve
the corridor for
the route, and TxDOT periodically updated the environmental
clearances for it to keep it "shovel-ready".
Circa 1989 plan for
SH 211 (Source:
Opposition to far northern
opposition emerged when the highway department announced they were
planning yet another extension of 211, this time an approximately 14
mile stretch from SH 16 north and east to
I-10 and on to FM 3351 (Ralph Fair Rd.) in far northwest Bexar County.
of property just north of SH 16 planned to donate a swath of
the road. However, this path, as well as the topography of the area,
limited the possible corridor for the highway to the north
and resulted in the preferred alignment, as well as several of
the alternatives, to run
middle of an adjacent historic ranch (see map below.) The
owners of that ranch vehemently opposed the road and hired a lawyer and
an environmental firm to fight the state. A
smorgasbord of issues, ranging from endangered species to water quality
to archaeological finds, was proffered. Efforts were made by the state
at a compromise but to no
avail. Other property owners in the area along the various alternate
routes then joined in
opposing the plan. During the fracas, the owner of the property just
north of SH 16 that
was to have been donated passed-away, and the
subsequent inheritor of the property then withdrew the offer to donate
for the project. Given all of these factors, and the political fallout
from the publication of a clearly biased
piece in Texas
Monthly on the drama, the proposal for
that extension was shelved in 1992, and there have been no plans
resurrect it. However, the recently-formed Save
Scenic Loop Alliance briefly indicated it may support
revisiting a SH 211 extension as one option to reduce
traffic on Scenic Loop Road, although there appears to be no active
discussions on this currently.
1992 map of
possible routes for SH 211 northern extension (Source:
briefly considered an extension of the route south to I-35, but that
appears to have been short-lived, and such an extension is currently
not part of the route's approved description. There were also
discussions of continuing the route around Camp Bullis and east to I-35
near New Braunfels, but with the tabling of the the SH 16 to I-10
segment, those plans also never progressed very far.
"Road to nowhere"
the first segment provided an obvious benefit in connecting the
research park to US 90, the other segment (from Culebra Rd. to Bandera
often cited by some (short-sighted IMO) people as
nowhere", especially given the lack of the Culebra Rd. to Potranco Rd.
segment. The fact that much of the land was
donated caused some to believe that the road was
built to encourage development in western Bexar County. TxDOT, however,
always maintained that the road was built to get ahead of the growth
and preserve a corridor at minimal cost before
development encroaches, costs increase, and the need becomes acute,
thus reflecting the type of long-range planning that many citizens
say they want.
TxDOT cited the fact that when Loop 1604 was planned in the 1960s, it
was way beyond the edge of the city and many people at that time also
lambasted it as a "road to nowhere", but the wisdom of that foresight
quite evident today.
worth noting that despite what was alleged
three decades ago, virtually no development occurred along SH
itself until recently. Instead, as predicted by planners, development
has marched outward
along US 90, Potranco Rd., Culebra Rd., and Bandera Rd., and SH 211 is
becoming the efficacious lateral connector it was envisioned to be.
Indeed, the need for SH 211-- and the wisdom of its
existence-- is becoming acutely more evident every day as traffic
counts on 211 at Potranco nearly doubled from 2015 to 2021,
and the count on 211 at Bandera is up over 50% the last decade.
between Culebra Rd. and Bandera Rd. (Photo by
211 is authorized by Minute Order 88108 [November 29, 1988]. The
section from SH 16 to I-10 is still authorized in that order.)
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