People living in the Loop 1604/Blanco Road area are learning more about the state’s plan to create a diverging diamond at the congested North Side intersection, but some neighbors remain worried.
Concerns about construction and how the finished product could affect local communities surfaced during a spring forum organized by the Texas Department of Transportation at the San Antonio Shrine Auditorium.
Tim Fairbanks, president of the Blanco Bluffs Homeowners Association, said he and neighbors have a hard time entering and leaving their community during rush hours.
TxDOT proposes turning the Blanco/1604 intersection into an interchange known as a diverging diamond, where two directions of traffic on Blanco cross to the opposite side on both sides of the overpass.
The idea behind the diverging diamond, TxDOT has said, is to increase mobility on northbound and southbound Blanco, a state road, during morning and evening heavy traffic.
The diverging diamond alone will not help much, said Fairbanks, whose 168-home subdivision is just southwest of the Blanco/1604 intersection.
“This will continue until issues on Loop 1604 are addressed,” he added. “I think we’re putting the cart before the horse.”
According to TxDOT, the annual average daily traffic count on Blanco north of 1604 was 36,400 in 2017.
That number is projected to hit 41,450 in 2020, and rise to 70,300 by 2050. Peak-time traffic stacks up on the westbound and eastbound freeway frontage roads leading to Blanco.
Other proposed improvements for the intersection include additional turn lanes and medians at the interchange, and improved bicycle lanes, sidewalks and walkways.
TxDOT also plans to add frontage lanes along 1604 from Huebner Road to Stone Oak Parkway, widen existing bridges spanning Panther Springs Creek, and add a bridge over the creek to accommodate the new frontage lanes.
TxDOT representatives have said while they are not commonplace in Texas, diverging-diamond interchanges are known to increase safety for motorists at key intersections.
According to TxDOT, there’s an average of 25 vehicular collisions yearly on Blanco on or near 1604; there is an average of 29 crashes per year on the 1604 frontage roads. Crash rates on 1604 frontage roads and on Blanco are higher than the statewide average.
If the project proceeds as planned, the state would need to acquire 1.40 acres of additional rights of way around the intersection to accommodate new road construction.
None of those parcels would displace residents or businesses.
TxDOT has conducted an environmental analysis and found that noise barriers, as requested by some neighbors and merchants, are neither “feasible nor reasonable” for the intersection.
The state is also continuing talks with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on how the project could affect endangered species known to live around the proposed site, which straddles the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.
TxDOT expects to finalize schematics and get full environmental clearance by the end of this spring, and then begin right-of-way acquisition and utility adjustments a year from now.
Construction could begin in 2021 and last two years. The project currently has an estimated cost of $43 million in state and federal money.
Many residents at the meeting worried about unintended consequences.
James Scott complained about speeding motorists on Blanco and neighboring roads. He also expressed concern that bike lanes and pedestrian pathways would not work with a reconfigured interchange.
“I don’t think the best way to go about this is to force bicycles and pedestrians to a shared sidewalk,” Scott added.
Timberwood Park resident Cruz Gutierrez said his problem concerns traffic farther north of 1604, and about pedestrian paths in the same area.
Art Jacobson, a resident of The Vineyard, said turning left out of his neighborhood onto northbound Blanco during rush hour is difficult, and suggested something be done farther up the road at the Blanco/Huebner Road intersection.
“I’m hoping they’ll do something to alleviate the traffic at that light,” he said.