Antonio Area Freeway System
US Highway 281 North (Walter McAllister Freeway)
|This page last updated May 20, 2023
||This page covers US 281 north of downtown San
Antonio from the I-35 interchange to the Comal county line. US 281
continues south of downtown concurrent (multiplexed) with I-37.
Length: 21 miles
for more information on the former US 281 "superstreet"?
See the superstreets
freeway is the
backbone for San Antonio's
area. The route serves
Trinity University, the University of the Incarnate Word, Brackenridge
the San Antonio Zoo, Alamo Stadium, The Quarry, Lincoln Heights, and
developments, San Antonio International Airport, and the Stone Oak
well as the suburban cities of Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, Hollywood
Hill Country Village.
downtown, 281 crosses the booming lower Broadway corridor before
snaking around the southern edge of the Brackenridge Golf
Course. It then continues north shoehorned between the San Antonio Zoo
Stadium before crossing the Olmos Dam and sailing over the wooded
and flood control basin. North of Basse, the landscape
suburban in character, and dense commercial development is achieved
Antonio International Airport at Loop 410 all the way to
1604 with a short break at the end of an airport runway between
and Nakoma. North of 1604, the freeway passes through rapidly
developing suburban areas of northern Bexar County until it ends
at the Comal county line.
McAllister Fwy./San Pedro Ave.
section of US 281 from I-35 to San Pedro Ave. is named the Walter
McAllister Freeway, named for the former mayor of San Antonio who
helped shepard the project. From there north to Loop 1604, the name
changes to San Pedro Ave. as the freeway subsumed
the existing roadway there, and most businesses along that
still list "San Pedro" in their address. North of Loop 1604, "US 281 N"
is used in most addresses.
section of freeway
is occasionally mistakenly called I-37. While the freeway that is I-37
and US 281 along the east side of downtown seamlessly
continues to the north, I-37 actually ends
at I-35 while US 281 continues north from there.
- 8 lanes from I-35 to St. Mary's
- 6 lanes from St. Mary's St. to
- 8 lanes from Hildebrand Ave. to
- 6 lanes from Sunset St. to Isom
- 8 lanes from Isom Rd. to
- 6 lanes from Donella Dr. to
lanes (5 northbound, 4 southbound) from Sonterra Blvd. to
lanes (4 northbound, 3 southbound) from Encino Rio to
lanes from Stone Oak Pkwy./TPC Pkwy. to north end of
- 2 HOV
Lanes (one each direction) from Evans Rd. to Borgfeld Dr.
- No continuous access roads from I-35 to Loop 410
with the exception of short sections of access road at the following
- Both directions between St. Mary's St. and Stadium
- Southbound from
Loop 410 to Sunset Rd.
- Northbound from Parkridge St. to Loop 410
- Continuous access roads remainder of route except
through San Pedro Ave. interchange.
for a list of US 281 North exits.
from I-35 to Hildebrand Ave.
- 65 mph from Hildebrand Ave. to north end of freeway
(speed limit north of Loop 1604 is provisional until construction is
complete and a speed study is conducted)
|SPECIAL FEATURES &
- TransGuide coverage along entire
- Southbound left exit to
- Northbound left
exit to Loop 1604.
Metropolitan Transit Stone Oak Park
& Ride located at Stone Oak Pkwy.
- Elevated "T-ramp" from HOV lane to/from Stone Oak Park & Ride
- Winding and scenic route from I-35 to Basse Rd.
- Landing lights for a runway at San Antonio
International Airport cross over the freeway on a truss just south of
|Generally heavy along entire route. Traffic volumes are down appreciably along most of the corridor over the past decade.
peak period congestion occurs southbound from Loop 1604 to Wurzbach
Pkwy. Recurring afternoon peak period
congestion occurs northbound from downtown to Hildebrand Ave.,
northbound from Loop 410 to Nakoma Dr., and southbound from Loop 410 to
ANNUAL DAILY TRAFFIC
|N of I-35
|S of Hildebrand Ave.
|N of Hildebrand Ave.
|N of Basse Rd.
|S of Sunset Rd.
|S of Loop 410
|N of Loop 410
|N of Isom Rd.
|S of Nakoma Rd.
|S of Brookhollow Dr.
|S of Loop 1604
|S of Sonterra Blvd.
In 2021, TxDOT changed the location of several traffic counting
stations. New stations will show no history prior to
discontinued stations will show no history for 2021.)
for photos and video of this
- Stone Oak Pkwy. to the Comal
Line: Upgrade divided highway to a freeway. Click here
details on this project.
view information for all projects in this
TxDOT announced plans to reconstruct the Jones-Maltsberger and Basse
interchanges near the Alamo Quarry Market. A Diverging
is proposed at Jones-Maltsberger. At Basse, the existing cloverleaf
ramps would be removed, and a new southbound exit ramp and northbound
entrance ramp added.
project to make several operational improvements in the Loop 410/US
281/San Pedro area will add a collector-distributor road along
southbound US 281 between Nakoma and San Pedro and will close the
northbound entrance ramp from Jones-Maltsberger north of the airport.
More details on that project are here.
the first HOV lanes now in operation north of Loop 1604,
are working on
long-term plans to extend those HOV lanes-- along with other
operational improvements-- along US 281 to downtown. However, the
geometry and right-of-way contraints along much of this route will
complicate that planning.
are on the books to upgrade US 281 to a full freeway all the
to FM 306 at the Comal/Blanco County line. The
first step toward that eventual plan upgraded 281 from a
two-lane road to a
four-lane divided highway from the Guadalupe River to FM 306; work on
that project was completed in early 2015. Advanced planning is underway
for the next expansion that will upgrade US 281 to a full freeway from
the Bexar/Comal county line to SH 46. More details on that project are here.
known during planning as
Expressway", US 281 from I-35 to San Pedro Ave. is named
McAllister, San Antonio's mayor when the freeway was
proposed and one of the main leaders in getting it
section north of Sandau was originally built as a two-lane road around
1934 as an
extension of San Pedro Ave. to be used as the route for US 281 as part
of the Arneson Plan to improve state highways in Bexar County. Prior to
then, US 281 and its predecessors SH 66 and SH 108 ran along
Nacogdoches, Wetmore, and Bulverde roads.
corridor has been the subject of major controversy twice in
history. Its initial
the most controversial freeway projects in US history, literally
requiring an act of Congress in order to get built. Plans in the
decades of this century to
extend the freeway north of Loop 1604 with toll lanes were
US 281 corridor has been home to not one, but two freeway intersections
that lacked full directional interchanges. Prior to 2008, traffic
connecting between Loop 410 and US 281 had to exit and navigate
overburdened access roads and/or surface streets to get from one
freeway to the other. The lack of an interchange
there was a result of the drawn-out battle over the McAllister Freeway
in the '60s and '70s. A blockbuster project starting in 2004 finally
built the multi-level interchange that's there today, with the various
flyovers opening in a one-year period between June 2007 and June 2008.
north at Loop 1604, a similar situation played-out. Prior
2012, all traffic connecting between US 281 and Loop 1604 was required
to exit onto the access
traverse the signalized intersections. The lack of an interchange here
was more due to a lack of need in the late '90s and then a
funding in the early 2000s. However,
the first flyovers in today's five-level interchange opened in November
2012 and provided direct
connections from US 281 northbound to both directions of Loop
1604. The connectors from
Loop 1604 to southbound US 281 opened in late December 2012. The
remaining flyovers were constructed as part of the project to
extend the freeway northward with the connectors from southbound US 281
to both directions of Loop 1604 opening in August 2020, and
two connectors opening in May 2021.
- 1955: Conceptual
the route begins.
- 1959: State begins
in-depth route studies.
- 1960: No
fewer than 12 possible alignments for the freeway between downtown and
the airport area were
under consideration. These routes were located in a corridor between
San Pedro Ave. to the west and Broadway to the east (see map below.) A
that included San Pedro was dismissed because it did
not provide direct access
to San Antonio International Airport, and routes along Broadway and
would require too
much expensive right-of-way to be acquired. So this
midway between Broadway
and McCullough. The state's preferred route cut between Trinity
University and Alamo Stadium and sliced through part of the City of
Olmos Park before continuing north over the Olmos Basin. However, Olmos
Park vetoed this route, so the Highway
chose an alternate route that skirted around the eastern edge of the
suburb. That route ran between Alamo Stadium, the Sunken Gardens and
Zoo, but this forced it to cut through the Incarnate Word campus, which
controversy. Additionally, the route would take some parkland in both
Brackenridge Park and the Olmos Basin.
- January 10, 1961:
Antonio voters approve a bond
issue for expressways (63% in favor) and to purchase
new parkland to replace the parkland that would be taken for the
freeway. (That replacement parkland is now McAllister Park.)
- 1963: Incarnate Word
files suit to block the freeway. The suit is subsequently dismissed and
a public hearing on the route is held.
- April 1964: The
Federal Highway Administration approves the route.
- October 1966: The
Rule", named for Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough who sponsored it, was
added to federal law and prohibited the taking of
highways unless no other feasible route exists.
- November 1967:
Lawsuit filed by the San Antonio Conservation Society asking
reconsideration of the federal approval of the project based on the new
federal law, and the federal Secretary of Transportation orders a new
analysis of routes for the freeway.
- 1968-1969: Negotiations
between the Texas Highway Department and Federal Highway
Administration over new routes fail.
- August 1970:
After further negotiations, the federal government approves the
undisputed northern and southern segments (north of Basse Rd.. and
south of Mulberry St.) with the stipulation that
further study by an independent consultant be done for
- November 1970:
The San Antonio
Conservation Society requests a federal court to issue an injunction
against the construction of the northern and southern segments. The
judge rejects the request and work on the those sections begins a week
- June 1971: The
independent consultant's San
Antonio North Expressway Study is released and recommends
an alignment essentially the same as the state's 1960 preferred
alignment rejected by Olmos Park.
- June 23, 1971:
a freeway project in
Memphis, Tennessee was struck-down by the US Supreme Court for
violating the Yarborough
Rule, the US 5th Circuit Court uses that precedent to revoke
funding for the North Expressway, which essentially renders it dead.
Work on the northern and southern sections ceases immediately
- September 1971:
The "Citizens Committee for Completion of North Expressway" is formed
and, in less than two weeks, collects over 40,000 signatures on a
petition calling for the completion of the North Expressway.
- October 1971: The
state withdraws its request for federal funding for the project.
- November 1971:
Petition drive surpasses 100,000 signatures.
- August 1973:
Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973 passes that includes a provision
sponsored by Texas senators John Tower and Lloyd Bentsen that removes
the section of US 281 between I-35 and Loop 410 from the federal
system, thus allowing
the city and state to build
the freeway on their own without federal funding or oversight.
- December 10, 1973:
After yet another legal challenge, the legislation removing all federal
involvement in the project was upheld by the US Circuit
Court, allowing the city
and state to go it alone. Work resumes on the project's stalled
northern and southern segments within 24 hours of the ruling. The US
Supreme Court subsequently refuses to review the case.
- Mid 1974: A
last-ditch lawsuit by the Conservation Society suspends the
for five more
- November 1974: Last
court challenge is dismissed and work finally begins on the
controversial center center section, which at $22.6 million is the
largest highway contract in the state's history up to this time.
- February 7, 1978: The
freeway between downtown and Sandau Rd. opens to
traffic. Originally estimated in 1961 to cost $17 million, the final
price tag came in at about $50 million.
- September 11, 1978:
Route is certified by the federal government.
- 1980: The existing
of at-grade highway from Sandau Rd. to Bitters Rd is upgraded to a
- 1981: The freeway is
named by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation
Officials as one of the nation's
three most beautiful urban freeways.
- 1987: With suburban
development continuing to surge northward, a project to upgrade
the section from Bitters Rd. to just north of Loop 1604 is started.
This project employs
several innovative traffic-handling methods during construction which
result in smoother traffic flow during the construction than before.
- April 1990: Project
from Bitters Rd. to Loop 1604 is finished in just 24 months.
- 1995: TransGuide
coverage was added south of St. Mary's St. as part of the original
- October 1998:
TransGuide coverage extended from St. Mary's St. to Basse Rd.
- April 2000: Sonterra
Blvd. extended to US 281. Because the city's thoroughfare plan showed a
future east-west arterial north of Loop 1604, what's now
the Sonterra overpass had been built as part of the 1987-1990 freeway
project. It was used by construction crews during the project but was
inaccessible and unused for nearly a decade until Sonterra Blvd. was
finally extended per those earlier plans.
- 2000: The
overpass at FM 1863 in Bulverde completed.
- June 2001: Flyover
northbound 281 into the airport opens.
- Early 2004: An
additional lane in each direction for most of the route between San
Pedro Ave. and
Loop 1604 is added by eliminating the inner shoulder and restriping the
- Late 2004: Work
on clearing the right-of-way for the tolled expansion of 281 north of
Stone Oak Pkwy.
- January 2005: A
lawsuit by opponents of the toll project stops work. (More detailed
history on that project is at
281 North expansion project page.)
- Mid-2006: An
extra lane in each
direction from Jones-Maltsberger Rd. near the Quarry south to
Hildebrand Ave. is added as
the 281/410 interchange project by
restriping the existing pavement.
- June 18, 2007: The
first flyover in the
281/410 interchange opens to traffic.
- June 9, 2008: The
final flyovers in the 281/410 interchange open to traffic. The
project also adds
additional lanes between Loop 410 and Nakoma and extends TransGuide
from Basse to Nakoma. (Also see the History
US 281/Loop 410 interchange page.)
- October 2010:
Work completed to upgrade 281 to a "superstreet" from
Rio to Marshall Rd. as a short-term fix to ease congestion while the
legal and administrative wrangling for the planned expansion project
are settled. (See the superstreets
page for more information.)
- November 2012: The
first flyovers in the
281/1604 interchange open.
- Late 2015: Toll
component removed from expansion plans north of Loop 1604 after Texas
voters approve new highway funding.
- July 2017: Work
begins to expand US 281 to a non-tolled freeway from Loop 1604 to Stone
- March 2019:
Construction to extend the freeway further north from Stone
Oak Pkwy. to the county
- June 2020: Freeway mainlanes from Loop 1604 to Evans Rd. open.
- August 2020:
Flyovers from southbound US 281 to Loop 1604 open.
- February 2021: Freeway mainlanes from Evans Rd. to Stone Oak Pkwy./TPC Pkwy. open.
- May 2021: Flyovers
from Loop 1604 to northbound US 281 open.
- August 2021: HOV
lanes from Evans Rd. to Stone Oak Pkwy./TPC Pkwy. open including ramp
to Stone Oak Park & Ride. Ribbon-cutting is held to mark the
completion for the first phase of expansion north of Loop 1604.
- May 2023: Freeway mainlanes from Stone Oak Pkwy./TPC Pkwy. to county line open.
Map of alignments studied for
North Expressway presented in 1960
(Source: San Antonio North
Expressway Study, 1971)
Artist's rendering of planned US
281 near Alamo Stadium ca. 1971
Note the proposed viaduct with Roman arches near
the Sunken Garden Theater.
courtesy of TxDOT)
on US 281 at Hildebrand Ave. looking south ca. 1977
courtesy of TxDOT)