SCHERTZ — Several roadway projects totaling more than $2 billion to keep pace with population growth along the bustling Interstate 35 corridor are underway or about to begin, state officials said.
At a May 21 luncheon, The Chamber welcomed Texas Department of Transportation representatives to detail solutions for limiting congestion on one of Texas’ busiest highways.
Members heard Jonathan Bean, director of transportation, planning and development for TxDOT, discuss “Keeping People Moving in a Fast-Growing Region” during a Schertz Civic Center gathering.
“There will be 1.1 million more people living in (Bexar County) by 2040, and Schertz is one of the fastest-growing regions in the county,” Bean said. “It is a challenge to keep up with the population growth, being that Texas … probably is the fastest-growing state in the nation.”
From 2010 to 2018, more than 1,000 folks daily joined the state’s ranks; 86 percent relocated near I-35 and eastward, Bean added.
“Really, it is all about the Interstate 35 corridor,” he said, noting a rise in populace means more motorists and vehicles.
TxDOT has several undertakings to deal with the boom.
One is the $1.9 billon I-35 Northeast San Antonio Expansion Project, or NEX, from AT&T Parkway in San Antonio to FM 1103. This would widen the interstate by adding two general-purpose express routes, and a high-occupancy vehicle lane in each direction.
Down the road, the HOV lane could transport driverless vehicles.
The plan, first developed in 2013, has seen several iterations. At one point, NEX included toll lanes, but they were removed in June 2018.
“There will be no more tolls on this project,” Bean said, as his agency identified new funding sources. For now, only $840 million, less than half the price tag, is currently available.
Another lunch-plate topic was road improvements to 1103 in the Schertz and Cibolo areas. A $7.2 million expansion of the 1103 bridge over I-35 in Schertz started in September 2017.
Will Lockett, another TxDOT transportation engineer who oversees roadwork in Comal, Wilson and Guadalupe counties, said the “1103 project is going well.”
The majority “is complete,” Lockett added.
“A lot of what we have to do now is really tying in all the frontage roads, the U-turns, the intersection and installing new traffic signals, and installing some sidewalks, wrapping up, hoping to be complete by the end of July,” he added.
Cibolo and TxDOT also partnered on a $24 million endeavor to widen 1103 from I-35 in Schertz into Cibolo toward Rodeo Way, past Steele High School. The betterment covers 3.83 miles and will enlarge the thoroughfare from two lanes to four, with a center-turn lane, plus new sidewalks and bike paths.
“FM 1103 is important to us, there’s traffic issues, there is pavement issues we know we need to address,” Bean said. “Right now, we have acquired all the necessary (rights of way) that we need for the project — construction should start in the spring 2020.”
One of the biggest traffic initiatives, Bean noted, was the Loop 1604 North Expansion Project to upgrade 1604 from Bandera Road to I-35, with eight general-purpose lanes (four in each direction), plus a high-occupancy vehicle lane each way.
Like NEX, this project recently nixed a toll component. Bean placed the cost at $300 million.
“The Loop 1604 Expansion itself should begin in a couple of years in 2021,” Bean said.
Current projections forecast construction divided into two phases: The first will run from Bandera to Redland roads and include roughly half of the direct connectors for a new interchange at Interstate 10. The second phase, from Redland to I-35, could add the remaining links at I-10.
Bean said it is difficult to create traffic initiatives pleasing to everyone, but TxDOT tries to listen to the public.
“We try very hard, we have a lot of public outreach, we do listen to the public,” Bean said. “It is a challenge to keep up with the population growth in Texas — keeping up with it is a challenge both from developing projects and getting them to construction and maintaining traffic during construction, but also just the funding aspects.”