Feds weigh in on elevated toll lanes in San Antonio
San Antonio Express-News
Adding elevated toll lanes to Bandera Road could significantly hurt businesses and residents, and besides, most people just don't like the idea, Federal Highway Administration officials have decided.
As a result, a full-blown environmental study must be done, the agency told the Texas Department of Transportation in a recent letter.
"The potential for significant controversy appears likely," states the letter, dated March 29 and signed by District Engineer Salvador Deocampo.
The more detailed study could last another three to four years, finishing in 2011 instead of 2008, said officials with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, which picked up the Bandera Road project from TxDOT.
"Until the (study) is complete, no long-term improvements can be started on Bandera Road, regardless of funding, and we can expect traffic to continue to increase in this corridor," authority Director Terry Brechtel said in a statement.
Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley said she's cautiously optimistic about the news.
"What are they going to study?" she said. "If it's the toll-road option, then ehhh."
Leon Valley, Helotes and Grey Forest have passed resolutions opposing the elevated toll lanes on Bandera Road.
Last July, many of the approximately 450 people who crowded into Marshall High School's auditorium cheered more than two dozen speakers who opposed the proposal. Just one spoke in favor.
"There is ample evidence that the public is generally resistant to the use of tolling on projects of this type," said Deocampo of the highway administration.
He cited possible loss of businesses, homes, parking and access; louder noises; worse views; and negative effects on O.P. Schnabel Park, the Onion House and a school.
"Our finding is that an environmental impact statement should be prepared," he said.
The Bandera Road plan calls for building four toll lanes above 61/2 miles of the roadway from Loop 410 to Loop 1604. An early study projected a toll fee of 13 cents a mile, increasing with inflation, which would pay for less than half the costs.
The road handles 31,000 to 61,000 vehicles a day, which is expected to jump 50 percent by 2030, according to the mobility authority. Just 61/2 percent of drivers travel the full length between Loops 410 and 1604.
Toll critics have called for other options, including better synchronization of traffic lights, replacing signaled intersections with roundabouts, converting the road to a limited-access parkway, reversing traffic in one or more lanes during rush hour and implementing a rapid bus system with some of the comfort and convenience of light rail.
The mobility authority is studying 21 alternatives, but can raise funding only through tolls or by getting money from other entities such as TxDOT.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Austin, feeling heat over state tolling policies, are considering bills to index the gas tax to annual inflation.
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