Monday, April 09, 2007

"If a new lane is added, it is subject to being tolled if it is on a state road."

$1.3 billion in road projects announced


Josh Baugh
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

The local Metropolitan Planning Organization has released an updated list of road projects for the next four years that includes some $1.3 billion worth of transportation projects.

The agency recently published its Transportation Improvement Program for fiscal years 2008-2011 and gave it to various organizations, including neighborhood associations in Bexar County.

The new TIP includes about 170 projects, including bus rapid transit, commuter rail, roadway projects and a few toll projects.

The MPO, created by federal law, serves as a clearinghouse for transit projects managed by state and local entities, including San Antonio, Bexar County, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, area suburban cities and the Texas Department of Transportation.

The MPO is responsible for transportation planning in the San Antonio metropolitan area and administers about $300 million in state and federal transportation funding annually, said Scott R. Ericksen, the MPO's public involvement coordinator.

The MPO has plans for several big-ticket projects in North Central San Antonio, including a $146 million project at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Loop 1604. TxDOT, which is expected to let the contract for that project in January 2011, plans to reconstruct the interchange and add toll connectors.

Ericksen said the state is looking at tolling parts of 1604 and U.S. 281 — a concept that the MPO's Transportation Policy Board approved on a split vote.

The MPO's TIP draft index includes several other toll projects on 1604 and U.S. 281 in North Central and Northwest San Antonio. TxDOT is scheduled to add four toll lanes on 1604 from Northwest Military Highway to Stone Oak Parkway, expanding the highway to eight lanes and tolling the four new lanes. The project, listed at $75 million, is scheduled to start in January 2011. Eventually, toll lanes could extend from State Highway 151 to Interstate 35, officials said.

Clay Smith, the director of transportation planning and development for TxDOT's San Antonio district, said the Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 toll projects are listed on the TIP because they'll receive a small amount of federal funding, but they're largely being financed by the private sector under a comprehensive development agreement.

The state transportation agency also has plans to expand the interchange at U.S. 281 and 1604, adding tolled direct connectors. The $180 million project is scheduled to start in 2011. And TxDOT has plans for a $78.3 million project, starting in 2011, to construct a tolled intersection for Wurzbach Parkway and U.S. 281, although the Regional Mobility Authority has determined that a tolled interchange is not feasible there.

Ericksen said only newly constructed lanes would be tolled.

"It's only added capacity," he said. "You will never lose a free lane. (But) if a new lane is added, it is subject to being tolled if it is on a state road."

But the agency responsible for studying the feasibility of toll roads in San Antonio is the RMA, which has authority from the Texas Transportation Commission "to evaluate and potentially develop added capacity tolled-lane projects," according to the agency's Web site.

RMA spokesman Leroy Alloway said his agency is in various stages of studying the feasibility of and developing toll roads at a few key locations in San Antonio, including the added lanes on U.S. 281, a section of Bandera Road and at U.S. 281 and Loop 1604.

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