This page last updated January 31, 2024
This project is currently in design
The project below is still in design. Descriptions below are based on preliminary schematics released on May 19th, 2021 and, as a result, details may change before the project goes to construction. This page will be updated when future schematics for this project are available.
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Project description and background
In 2000, TxDOT announced plans to upgrade US 281 in Bexar County to a non-tolled, six-lane freeway from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Pkwy., and to build a standalone overpass at Borgfeld Dr., with long-term plans to upgrade 281 to a full freeway in phases all the way to FM 306 at the Comal/Blanco county line. However, due to rapid worldwide construction cost increases that developed suddenly around 2003 that resulted in funding shortages for planned highway projects, the state required new freeway projects to use tolls where possible, so the 281 expansion project from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak was changed to include tolled mainlanes and was extended from Stone Oak Pkwy. to Borgfeld Dr. This sparked a decade-long battle with toll road opponents that delayed the project multiple times. With additional traditional funding becoming available in the mid 2010s, that project finally got underway in 2017 as a non-toll project and was completed in phases between 2021 and 2023.
- Close all crossovers along this stretch
- Add one-way access roads and entrance and exit ramps on each side of 281
- Make improvements to the existing overpasses at SH 46 and FM 1863
- Construct a new overpass at Mustang Vista
- Build a short extension of Mustang Vista to the west of US 281 to connect to an extension of Short Hill; this will allow traffic from Casey Rd. to cross US 281 and to allow traffic from northbound US 281 to reach Casey Rd. without having to turn around at SH 46
- Widen FM 1863 between US 281 and Wiley Rd. to six lanes (i.e. three lanes each direction) with a raised median and make improvements to the existing intersections at US 281 and FM 1863
- Add a southbound access road from SH 46 to just north of Flightline Rd.
- Build sidewalks throughout the project
Additional right-of-way will be required, much like the expansion in Bexar County did. However, the new center median will be designed to be wide enough to accommodate future widenings or other transportation improvements without having to expand the footprint further.
BEXAR COUNTY LINE AND SH 46
BEXAR COUNTY LINE AND SH 46
- Will this project be tolled?
No. Although earlier versions of the US 281 expansion in Bexar County included tolled lanes, funding was secured to remove the toll component from that project, and planning for the expansion in Comal County had never progressed to the point where a decision on tolls would have had to be made. With tolling now deprecated, this project is expected to include non-tolled freeway mainlanes and access roads.
- Will this project have HOV lanes?
No, as of now, it is not planned to extend the HOV lanes in Bexar County north as part of this project. However, planners will leave an "envelope" in the median to accommodate possible HOV lanes in the future.
- The plans show two mainlanes in each direction, but there are already two lanes in each direction here, so how is this an improvement?
This is a common misconception because it is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Yes, this section of 281 does indeed have two lanes each way today and will only have two mainlanes each way when this project is complete. However, those two future mainlanes will be freeway mainlanes, not surface road lanes as they are today. Since freeway mainlanes do not have signalized intersections, they can carry about twice as many vehicles than surface road lanes can. Therefore, the two freeway lanes are roughly equivalent to four of the existing lanes.
Also, much of the traffic in the current lanes in that area is headed to or from the intersecting roads, neighborhoods, or frontage businesses, and will therefore be on the access road lanes, not on the freeway mainlanes. Access road lanes are surface road lanes, so with a minimum of two access road lanes in each direction (and three along most stretches), that adds two to three more lanes to our running total.
When you add those up, the new lanes will be approximately equivalent to six or seven of the existing surface road lanes in each direction, which triples the number of lanes that are there today. Even if you just count the raw number of lanes and don't account for the capacity differences for the types of lanes, there will still be four to five lanes in each direction (two mainlanes and two to three access road lanes) as opposed to just the two lanes there today.
- Okay, but there needs to be at least three mainlanes in each direction — two lanes will soon result in congestion like that on Loop 1604.
Planners look at current and projected traffic volumes to determine the number of lanes to build. The planning timeline is typically 20-25 years. This is the longest that estimates can be considered reliable, and it's also the lifespan of a road before it needs major repairs or reconstruction.
Although nobody has a crystal ball and can tell what traffic volumes will be two decades from now, and future traffic projections have to make assumptions that may well not hold up, those projections currently indicate that those two mainlanes will be sufficient. According to TxDOT's May 2021 public meeting for this project, projections are that this stretch of US 281 will carry about 108,000 vehicles per day in 2049, which is still well below the capacity for a four lane freeway. Although peak volumes by then could approach or exceed capacity for short periods, this is considered an acceptable level of service as the additional expense to ameliorate that would not provide enough savings to justify it. For comparison, US 281 at Mustang Vista carries about 44,000 vehicles per day currently, and the recently completed section of US 281 in Bexar County carries about 90,000 vehicles per day.
As plans for this section are fleshed-out, traffic projections will be updated and refined and, if they increase enough, could lead to additional lanes being included.
Click on the image below to open the detailed schematic for this project from TxDOT with my own annotations added to help clarify and explain the various elements. The schematic will open in a new window that you can scroll and zoom.
Note that this schematic is preliminary and subject to change.
TxDOT has a good video that describes this project:
Other sites of interest
|TxDOT - US 281 South Comal County