TxDOT proposes 281 tollway

by Emily May, Staff Writer

The Texas Department of Transportation brought forth plans to rebuild US Highway 281 from Stone Oak Parkway to the Comal/Blanco county line as a tollway at a meeting held at Guadalupe Valley Telecommunications Cooperative auditorium last Wednesday.

Over 300 area residents viewed large-scale schematics of a proposed toll road infrastructure originating at Stone Oak Parkway in San Antonio and ending at the Comal/Blanco County line.

In an effort to prepare and improve US Hwy. 281 as a major travel route north, the 23-mile tollway will increase capacity, reduce the number of accidents and take care of anticipated growth for the next 20 to 30 years.

There will be no toll booths planned, as electronic toll readers will process the toll, currently proposed at $0.15 per mile. The details of a "easy pass" and bulk buys are still being determined.

According to Judy Friesenhahn with TxDOT, the area is projected to experience a 67-percent increase in traffic between 2010 and 2030.

Currently, the majority of the state's road funding comes from the motor fuel tax. Of the $0.384 per gallon, $0.20 stays in Texas, with the remaining $0.184 going to the Federal government where it is redistributed. That money is budgeted to maintain the current roads.

Two years ago the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3588 which created regional mobility authorities, and alternative funding sources to create new roadways through tollways and bonds. Tolls may only be levied on new capacity lanes and there must be a non-toll alternative.

Friesenhahn cited projections that by 2030, traffic congestion in San Antonio would be similar to Houston traffic today. Comal County is expected to grow 85-percent in that same time period.

An $8.5 billion deficit exists to upgrade San Antonio and Comal County roadways, according to TxDOT, and no gas-tax funds will be available for Comal County for 25 years to fund major road improvements.

Construction estimates for the US 281 tollway are $226 million. The proposed 281 tollway includes 13 new or expanded interchanges, similar to the one recently constructed at US 281 and Farm-to-Market road 1863 to separate the fast and slow moving traffic.

Residents expressed concern about the lack of an interchange in the Kestrel Air Park area, citing emergency vehicles' need for accessibility to the subdivision's runway as a landing site for AirLife.

A typical section of the proposed tollway will require 400 feet of lanes, shoulder and median. The existing US 281 from the Guadalupe River to FM 306 is 120 feet. The proposed US 281 alters the current flow of the highway as the new right-of-way was designed with "minimal impact to humans and the environment."

According to Friesenhahn's presentation, the right-of-way will bypass the Gass and Voges cemeteries and takes into account the location of wildlife habitats, the Guadalupe River and Cypress Creek. It affects 72 acres of floodplain and the Jumbo Evans Sports Park.

TxDOT anticipates a public hearing in July 2005. Individuals may sign up to speak and have their comments recorded into the public record during that hearing. This would provide for the acquisition of right-of-way from landowners adjacent to US 281 beginning in January 2006.

According to Clay Smith, director of transportation and development, landowners will be offered appraised fair-market value for their property. Acquisition of right-of-way from the Guadalupe River to FM 306 would begin first, as that segment will be widened from the current two lanes to four lanes with overchanges. This segment will be last to become toll. According to Friesenhahn,

TxDOT would like to have the four-lane expansion under contract in three to seven years.

Free access will be maintained on the new frontage roads.Comments and questions can be directed to Friesenhahn by e-mail: jfriese@dot.state.tx.us, and by phone: (210) 615-5814.


Editor's note: This is the second installment of "Growth in Comal," a series of articles focusing on growth in Comal County. (Turn to page 10A for the proposed tollway graphics.)

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