Link to Express-News article here.
Dave Pasley: S.A. needs more roads, not toll booths
By Dave Pasley
The only thing left to debate about the fix for traffic congestion in the U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 corridors on the North Side is how to pay for more lanes in the existing roadway alignments. It’s either tolls or taxes.
All other practical options have been precluded because of deep flaws in the city’s political and development practices.
Ten years ago there was excess capacity on U.S. 281 and Loop 1604. Today there is gridlock. How is it possible to screw up these two highway corridors so badly in just 10 years? How can a city without enough traffic to warrant an HOV lane suddenly have so much congestion it needs a toll road?
The short answer is that we have not provided for any connectivity during the development process. In other words, you can’t get from Point A to Point B on the far North Side without getting on Loop 1604 or U.S. 281. The only east-west route connecting Interstate 10 and Interstate 35, between Loop 410 and Texas 46 in Comal and Kendall counties, is Loop 1604.
Developers have been allowed to blanket the far North Side with limited access subdivisions without providing an interconnected roadway system to support them.
Consequently, commuters on their way to work are mired in traffic jams with cross-country travelers. School buses jockey for road space with 18-wheelers.
This Loop 1604-U.S. 281 predicament should not be a surprise to anyone because essentially the same thing happened to Loop 410 and U.S. 281 in the 1970s and 1980s. The Wurzbach Parkway was conceived in the mid-’80s to provide an east-west alternative route midway between Loop 410 and Loop 1604. Unfortunately, 20 years after its conception, the Wurzbach Parkway is still not complete.
In January 1996, when I was the San Antonio planning director, I wrote a report to the Metropolitan Planning Organization urging the development of east-west alternatives to Loop 1604. Following is an excerpt from that report:
“Short of securing these important east-west routes through the development process, the only alternatives are for the taxpayers of the community to bear the cost and inconvenience of retrofitting arterials after development has occurred, or to endure the hardships of an inadequate major thoroughfare system.
“The city’s current experience with the cost and construction of the estimated $90 million twelve mile Wurzbach Parkway across the northern portion of the community presents a clear example of the huge financial consequences associated with the failure to secure adequate east-west arterial movement through the development process.”
They were prophetic words then, and they are still valid today. Simply put, the North Side needs more roads, not necessarily bigger roads.
It would be great if politicians had the spine to limit development on the recharge zone or if the bulk of consumers of new housing wanted to live in transit-oriented, high-rise developments. Changes in either of those mind-sets would go a long way to resolving the Loop 1604-U.S. 281 mess.
In the interim period, while we are waiting for hell to freeze over, I suggest the City Council assign two tasks to the new city manager:
1. Complete the Wurzbach Parkway ASAP.
2. Make San Antonio developers provide a network of arterial streets as they do in Phoenix.
Dave Pasley was San Antonio planning director from 1992 to 1996.