After more than a decade of debate, false starts, and lawsuits, Bexar County officials are finally ready to move forward on a compromise plan on how to improve chronically congested U.S. 281 that could result in construction beginning next year, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.
Bexar County Engineer Renee Green says the $458 million proposal calls for completing the northern half of the Loop 1604, US 281 interchange, and building both free expressway lanes and toll lanes between 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway.
The project continues north to the Comal County line with six new tolled lanes.
Green says all of the new lanes, both free and tolled, would be in addition to the existing main lanes and access roads currently on 281, which would remain non tolled.
So U.S. 281 between Loop 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway, would jump from six lanes today to 12 lanes after the project is completed, and ten of those lanes would be non tolled.
Between Stone Oak Parkway and the Comal County Line, 281 would go from four lanes today to 10 lanes after the completion of the project, with ten total lanes, two of which are described as ‘future lanes,’ which may or may not be construction at the same time as the main project.
“Five, six, seven years ago, it was just painful,” Green said. “today it is beyond the pain. People who live there just want something done, and they want it done now.”
Green says the bulk of the $458 million weld be a bank loan taken out by the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, which is a unit of Bexar County, and the money to be paid back by toll revenues from the ‘managed lanes.’ Green said the term of the loan would probably be thirty years, but she couldn’t commit to whether the tolls would be removed after the thirty years is up.
Other funding would come from $26 million from the city’s 2010 bond program, $48 million from the Advanced Transportation District sales tax, and $144 million from the federal government because U.S. 281 is a federal highway.
Green says the new free lanes, two lanes in each direction, would be express lanes, and their main advantage would be to avoid the annoying red lights at cross streets which lead to much of the traffic backup.
“Essentially you are going to have overpasses at those locations,” she said. “You will have entrance ramps and exit ramps, traditionally to what you normally see on an expressway.”
The toll lanes are technically called ‘managed lanes,’ because they will be free to mass transit facilities and to ‘registered carpool vehicles’ which contain a number of passengers still to be determined.
And the tolls would range between 50 cents an mile down to 17 cents a mile, or would even be removed, depending on the time of day or the volume of traffic. So the toll could vary depending on the time and highway conditions.
“If we want to guarantee a certain speed during a certain time of day, the price may be higher,” she said. “If we want to allow people to allow people to drive on it for free, that flexibility is also available.”
So why does Green think that toll lanes on 281 would work when less than forty miles away lies State Highway 130, which has been an abysmal failure with it’s bonds now at ‘junk’ status?
“I think the theory behind State Highway 130 was ‘build it any they will come’,” she said. “They are already on 281. The traffic count is already there.”
She says a commuter who drives the entire distance on the toll lanes from the Comal County line all the way to 1604 in the morning and then in the evening would rack up a toll of no more than $8 a day, or $40 a week under the existing plan.
The plan is to add a VIA Park and Ride facility to encourage people to consider taking the bus, and bike and pedestrian facilities to make it easier for those methods of transportation to be used on the road.
Green says planners have been debating this for more than ten years, and there is no longer any time to continue debating.
“If you drive on 281 now, you are experiencing a traffic volume of about 80,000 vehicles per day,” she said. “You will not be able to fit another vehicle on that pavement at about 90,000 vehicles per day.”
For more on the proposal go to: http://www.bexar.org/339/Alamo-Regional-Mobility-Authority