SAN ANTONIO – Construction is set to begin early next year on a major project to expand Loop 1604 on San Antonio’s North Side, but environmental concerns linger.
The Texas Department of Transportation plans to widen the roadway to 10 lanes, including HOV lanes, from State Highway 16 (Bandera Road) to Interstate 35.
Some environmental and public advocacy groups are still criticizing the plans. And the Public Interest Research Group recently added the project to its annual list of “Highway Boondoogles.”
“Our criteria are, generally speaking, projects that are way too expensive for solving the problem, and especially ones that have extreme environmental impact,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the Texas Public Interest Research Group or TexPIRG. “And 1604 falls in that later category.”
The entire project would cover a 23 mile stretch of Loop 1604. The work would also redo the interchange at I-10 near UTSA. The estimated cost of the project is $1.3 billion, with about half of that already funded with state and federal dollars.
The project is needed because growth is outpacing the highway’s capacity to handle the expected amount of traffic in the coming years, according to TxDOT. It expects traffic volumes and travel times to nearly double by 2045 without any improvements, but with improvements it anticipates travel times should drop to 26 to 30 minutes.
But TexPIRG is skeptical the project will improve congestion as much as TxDOT is promising. Both TexPIRG and the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance are also concerned about the project’s potential impact on water quality.
“As cars go along the road, and oil drops and other car leakage goes on the road, then when it rains, all that stuff gets pushed from the road into the water supply, especially right where this recharge zone is,” Scoggin said. “So that’s literally where we’re getting our drinking water as San Antonians and so it’s really imperative that we protect it at all costs.”
TxDOT has held several meetings on the project and has conducted environmental studies. It acknowledges the risk of runoff, but believes it can be mitigated during and after construction through vegetative and sand filters as well as other measures. It also committed to measures to minimize noise pollution.
Once environmental clearances are granted, construction is expected to begin by the spring. And work should be completed on the portion of the project from Bandera Road to west of U.S. 281 in 2026.
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