The latest design in the ten year long project to expand US Highway 281 from Loop 1604 to the Comal County line, will be unveiled tonight by the Texas Department of Transportation and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, which is now a unit of county government, 1200 WOAI news reports.
The plan includes a mix of non toll and toll lanes south of Marshall Road, with all of the new main lanes north of Marshall being toll roads. It also includes HOV and mass transit lanes between Loop 1604 and Marshall Road. The total cost of the project: $440 million.
The roughly 1200 page Environmental Impact Statement shows planners also considered other options. The idea of widening and improving Blanco and Bulverde Roads east and west of 281 in hopes of taking some of the traffic pressure off of the main road was rejected, largely because of the environmental damage that more traffic on Blanco would cause to Camp Bullis.
Planners also rejected a seven mile long expressway running over the main lanes of 281, more overpasses to eliminate the need for traffic-slowing red lights, and they even discussed the idea of contra-flow lanes, which would flow southbound during morning drive and northbound in the afternoon. That plan was rejected because not a large enough percentage of the total traffic flow goes in those directions during drive time.
The plan also calls for toll rates on the newly built toll lanes of up to 50 cents per mile, which anti toll activist Terri Hall says would mean the average Stone Oak commuter would pay about $2500 a year in tolls.
"Fifty cents a mile is not cheap and people in San Antonio don't have that kind of money to be able to throw into the kitty every day to spend two to three grand each year just to get to work," Hall said. "That's like taking a huge pay cut."
She also took aim at the HOV lanes, bus lanes, and other 'social engineering' projects which would be added to the project, at taxpayer expense.
"People are not clamoring for HOV lanes, they are not clamoring for hike and bike trails," she said. "They are looking for a way to get from point A to point B in their private vehicles."
She also says the draft Environmental Impact Statement does not make any mention of the damage to businesses along 281 that would be caused by toll roads, the mass amounts of traffic which would be dumped into the access roads so elite, wealthy motorists can drive unmolested on main lanes paid for by taxpayers, and she says study after study has shown that when toll lanes are built in cities, the result is that motorists, including 18 wheelers, get off the highway and cut through neighborhoods to avoid the tolls.
"Now you'll have high speed through traffic trying to cut through their neighborhood where kids are walking to school and adults are trying to walk their dog or whatever," she said.
Also, a well known University of California-Berkeley study shows that far from cutting traffic volumes, so called High Occupancy Vehicle lanes and mass transit lanes actually increase traffic volumes on other lanes, leading to more traffic jams. But experts point out that politicians love HOV lanes, because buried deep in the contract is usually a provision allowing politicians to drive, alone in their cars, on the HOV lanes, a privilege which is denied to taxpayers.
The plan now is to begin construction on the US 281 expansion, whatever form it takes, in 2015.