San Antonio roadways less congested in 2020, study finds

Traffic returning to pre-pandemic levels

SAN ANTONIO – Most area highways slipped in the latest ranking of the most congested roadways in Texas, reflecting disruptions in traffic patterns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The biggest change we saw in 2020 was that some commute trips weren’t made because -- to work from home,” said David Schrank, senior research scientist for the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). “And so, you had areas that are normally higher and ranks in San Antonio that eased up -- U.S. 281, I-10, parts of (Loop) 410, (Loop) 1604 and (I-)35 north -- where a lot of trips are made into San Antonio for work weren’t happening.”

TTI’s annual study used data from Texas Department of Transportation traffic counts and the analytics firm INRIX from the 2020 calendar year. The formula was slightly adjusted, making a direct comparison to the previous year a little tricky.

Eight San Antonio roadways made the top 100 list:

35) Loop 1604 between U.S. 281 and I-10

38) I-35 between Loop 1604 and NE Loop 410

41) Loop 1604 between I-10 and Braun Road

49) Loop 410 between U.S. 281 and I-10

52) U.S 281 between Loop 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway

56) I-35/I-10 between I-37 to U.S. Highway 90

61) I-35 between Loop 410 NE and Loop 410

68) Loop 410 between U.S. 281 and I-35

One roadway made the top 100 list for truck or freight traffic -- I-35 on the Northeast Side.

“It kind of feeds into San Antonio and then it all sort of bleeds out into the various interstates and roads in San Antonio that that may have distribution centers, warehouses and things like that, where these truck trips are beginning or ending or going on to places like Corpus or Laredo,” Schrank said.

The I-35 Northeast Expansion project aims to reduce congestion by creating express lanes for traffic passing through the area. Construction is expected to start next year.

“Anything we can do to smooth those flows to get the trucks either separated somewhat from the auto trips or just to make everything work better and safer is going to improve traffic and performance in the San Antonio region,” Schrank said.

Traffic is already returning to pre-pandemic volumes. Even with more telework in the future, the state’s rapid population growth will continue to strain its infrastructure, according to Schrank.

The Texas Legislature mandated the annual list in 2009. The rankings factor into analysis for road projects as part of the Texas Clear Lanes Initiative.

While San Antonio had fewer roadways in the top 100, six highways in the Laredo area joined the list.

The congestion is likely related to the fact that fewer workers in the area can do their jobs at home and the large presence of distribution facilities in the region, Schrank said.

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About the Author:

Samuel King anchors traffic during GMSA and reports on transportation and mobility issues across the San Antonio region. He joined the KSAT 12 news team in 2020 from KUT in Austin. Samuel was born in Queens, spent time growing up in South Alabama and graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.