Austin – A state commission blocked the City of San Antonio’s plans to redevelop lower Broadway Avenue over concerns it would increase congestion.
The members of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT, voted 3-1 Thursday to stop a long-planned hand-off of a 2.2-mile section of State Loop 368 between Burr Road and I-35, which overlaps with Broadway Avenue. Commissioner Laura Ryan was the lone vote against the measure.
City officials called the commission’s decision, which comes after years of planning and millions of dollars, an “about-face.”
The section of road was central to the city’s plans for a redesign of the entire Broadway corridor, from the city limits of Alamo Heights southward into the heart of downtown San Antonio.
San Antonio voters approved $42 million for reconstruction work through the 2017 bond program, and the city has spent $3 million on the state-owned portion alone.
The city’s plans relied on the state ceding control of its 2.2-mile section of roadway to the city, which had been the understanding for the past seven years.
The commission issued orders in December 2014 and February 2015 that would allow such a hand-off, but it was contingent upon TxDOT issuing a “project acceptance letter” and the governor making the actual transfer.
Since TxDOT never issued the letter, which it says would come only after a project is completed, the transfer never took place. And Thursday’s vote to rescind the 2014 and 2015 orders means it won’t.
“This has stunned all of us in San Antonio,” Assistant City Manager Jeff Coyle told commissioners ahead of the vote, while asking unsuccessfully for a delay.
At the heart of the state’s reversal, are the city’s plans to reduce traffic lanes along the state-owned portion from six traffic lanes down to four to provide space for wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and landscaping, as part of a “complete street” concept.
TxDOT officials, though, say it would cause congestion issues.
“This corridor will see a serious reduction in capacity and much higher congestion levels for drivers if these lanes are removed, which will end up forcing traffic on onto many side streets, neighboring streets or other corridors,” TxDOT’s San Antonio district engineer, Gina Gallegos, told commissioners.
The commission’s chairman, J. Bruce Bugg Jr., a San Antonio banker and a Gov. Greg Abbott appointee, cited Abbott’s 2015 request to develop a strategic plan to fight traffic choke points in major metropolitan areas.
He also read a statement from Abbott’s office into the record, opposing the city’s plans to reduce lanes and supporting “TxDOT’s efforts to ensure mobility and maintain capacity along this roadway while developing solutions that meet the needs of the local community.”
Although the move likely means the end of the city’s current vision for Broadway, Bugg said it’s not the end of all work on Broadway.
“So there’s nothing in this proposed action that would prevent us from working with the City of San Antonio,” Bugg said. “To the contrary, that’s what I would envision we do -- is again, going forward, we sit down, we listen to each other, but the only stipulation is we cannot reduce capacity on Broadway.”
Whether it can be done at all remains to be seen.
City Manager Erik Walsh issued this statement following the vote:
The state’s opinion of the project came as a surprise for city officials. Plans for the corridor have been in the works for years, and TxDOT has been a “partner” as they’ve been developed.
“TxDOT has been with us every step of the way until very recently,” Coyle told commissioners.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg called the commission’s decision “disappointing and highly illogical.”
“I think the voters got it right back in 2017 -- 72% approval,” Nirenberg told reporters. “They want, they expect, they were promised a complete street, and that’s the project we’re going to be participating in. We look forward to figuring out how that’s going to be done.”
Well. @TxDOT just voted to reclaim a stretch of Broadway St. that never exceeds 35mph as part of the TX Highway System.— Mayor Ron | Get vax’d! 💪 (@Ron_Nirenberg) January 27, 2022
Deeply disappointed in the vote, but we hope the State is serious about "working together" to finish the project.
San Antonio deserves a complete Broadway St. https://t.co/W0xENtiNjx
In response to questions from Bugg during the commission meeting, Gallegos said the city’s 2017 bond language does not specify the project would reduce traffic lanes.
There is evidence the reduction of lanes has been publicly known for some time, though.
“In 2016, TxDOT and the (Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) approved $14 million in funding state and federal sources for Broadway as part of the turn back,” David McBeth, an assistant city engineer with the San Antonio Public Works Department told commissioners.
McBeth said the language in the AAMPO’s Transportation Improvement Program included a reduction of lanes along Broadway, from six to four.