The Texas Department of Transportation is working with the City of Alamo Heights on a $27 million plan to turn Broadway into a pedestrian-friendly corridor — and holding it up as an example of how San Antonio might proceed with its own derailed plans to overhaul their portion of road.
Both cities originally envisioned grand transformations for Broadway, including reducing lanes to create space for bikes and pedestrians. Those plans were put on hold earlier this year when TxDOT abruptly informed city leaders it was no longer allowing lane reductions on major thoroughfares and moved to reclaim a 2.2-mile section of the road it once sought to turn over to the City of San Antonio.
This month the two cities are forging ahead on very different paths.
On Monday members of the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group that oversees state and federal transportation funding, voted to remove the term “road diet” from the plan for Alamo Heights’ 0.7-mile stretch of Broadway between Austin Highway and Burr Road. The move came after Alamo Heights’ city council approved a resolution vowing not to reduce the number of lanes earlier this month.
Gina Gallegos, the district engineer for TxDOT’s San Antonio District, told the San Antonio Report on Thursday her agency plans to contribute $4 million to Alamo Heights’ portion of the project and is working to hire a consultant to coordinate its various elements, including roadway reconstruction, landscaping and improved traffic signals.
The overall project will cost in excess of $40 million and will be funded by numerous partners in addition to the City of Alamo Heights. The project will include at least $13 million to address flood and drainage issues along Broadway in Alamo Heights, with a portion of the project paid for with the proceeds of city bonds.
“We didn’t get our lane reduction, but we’re going to have a project that improves our community tremendously with flood reduction, utility burial, landscaping, improvements in sidewalks and pedestrian improvements,” Alamo Heights Councilman Lawson Jessee said of his city’s new vision for Broadway.
Jessee first ran for City Council in 2015 on a plan to make the city a more appealing place for young people to live, and said Alamo Heights’ Broadway project had been his “baby.”
Though he was disappointed with TxDOT’s decision not to allow the lane reductions, he’s pleased with the new arrangement.
“[They’ve] committed to working with us with our own architects,” said Jessee. “Essentially our parameters are: We have to keep seven lanes on Broadway.”
Alamo Heights Mayor Bobby Rosenthal said he and other city leaders meet regularly with TxDOT on the project, which shares many of San Antonio’s goals: increasing walkability and outdoor space in a city that’s currently designed primarily for cars.
“With all of these partners just coming together, we’re going to see some improvements made throughout that area, and in the end, I think it’s going to look really nice,” Gallegos said.
Pointing to the progress Alamo Heights has made since eliminating planned lane reductions, Gallegos said, “I think that’s definitely something that the City of San Antonio could do as well.”
For now, San Antonio’s plans for the project remain on a different trajectory. Voters in San Antonio approved revamping Broadway as part of a $42 million piece of the 2017 municipal bond, and on parts of lower Broadway that still belong to the city, lane reductions already are underway.
“We’ve got to stay true to what the voters approved,” City Manager Erik Walsh told the San Antonio Report. “The property owners, the stakeholders, the MPO, the City Council, the voters … everybody’s envisioned and looked at renderings and preliminary design of a complete street that increases other mobility options along that corridor.”
Walsh and other city leaders last met with TxDOT chair J. Bruce Bugg Jr., a San Antonio banker, and Executive Director Marc Williams in mid-February. Walsh said he’s requested another meeting for himself and Mayor Ron Nirenberg to meet with Bugg and Williams, but the agency has yet to grant that request.
TxDOT says the number of traffic lanes on Broadway isn’t negotiable.
“We have reminded staff there will be no turning back on this project,” Gallegos said of conversations with City of San Antonio officials. “And we also have reminded the City of San Antonio staff that the lanes will not be reduced from six lanes to four lanes. The number of lanes will remain the same. We will not reduce capacity.”
TxDOT is still working on a traffic study Gallegos says will highlight problems with congestion her agency is seeking to avoid by taking a tough stance on the lane reductions.
Walsh said he remains optimistic that TxDOT’s concerns about congestion can be solved while still reducing the number of lanes.
“The issue of congestion or traffic flow does not rely solely on the number of lanes,” said Walsh. “Intersections are where the choke points are at. … As long as you make necessary improvements, turn lanes, timing — that’s how you keep traffic moving.”
As it stands, Broadway is likely to narrow and widen at different points, regardless of TxDOT’s plans.
“A big question mark for me is what happens if you go all of a sudden from something that’s like a highway into something that’s more like an urban corridor,” said San Antonio Councilman Mario Bravo (D1) whose district includes much of the proposed Broadway renovation.
“Our community has really embraced reimagining Broadway, now that we are a big city,” said Bravo. Of Alamo Heights’ decision, he added, “it’s like they’re going backwards.”