Photo Courtesy of Montgomery County Planning Commission.
Photo Courtesy of Montgomery County Planning Commission.

The single worst congested roadway in Texas is Interstate 35 between U.S. 290 and SH 71 south of Austin, a determination that will surprise no one who reads the study released Tuesday by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute on the 100 worst congested highways in the state. Unfortunately for San Antonio commuters, a major congestion problem for Austin also happens to be a major congestion problem for anyone traveling on IH-35 from San Antonio and South Texas.

The annual survey, “The Most Congested Roadways in Texas,” is commissioned by the Texas Department of Transportation. The rankings are based on the amount of delay caused along each stretch of roadway by congestion.

The survey results make a strong case for Lone Star Rail, the proposed commuter train that would run from San Antonio to Austin to Georgetown and give regular commuters between San Antonio and Austin a mass transit option to driving a personal vehicle on the truck-congested I-35 corridor between the two cities. The project, however, remains under study with no regional funding mechanism or timeline yet established.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 7 in the Nov. 3 General Election, a constitutional amendment drafted by lawmakers in the 2015 session of the Texas Legislature that authorizes a portion of state sales and use tax to fund additional construction and maintenance of roads. The Legislature did not allocate any of those funds for other transportation options. Under the formula set by legislators, once the state collects $28 billion in sales and use tax in a fiscal year, the next $2.5 billion will be allocated to the State Highway Fund. The mandate runs for 15 years from Sept. 1, 2017 through Sept. 1, 2032. If motor vehicle sales and rental taxes exceed $5 billion in one fiscal year, 35% of the remaining revenue collected also will be allocated to the State Highway Fund. This measure will run for 10 years from Sept. 1, 2019 to Sept. 1, 2029.

“The additional resources are certainly welcome, and we will be in a better position than we would be otherwise, but the more political fences we put around transportation funding, the more we limit the opportunity to be comprehensive and innovative in our approach,” said Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) on Tuesday. He said he was encouraged that San Antonio and other cities located along the San Antonio-Austin corridor have agreed to fund studies for L-Star Rail service, but it’s only a first step.

Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) smiles as he arrives at the Southwest School of Art's Coates Chapel. Photo by Scott Ball.
Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8). Photo by Scott Ball.

“We took a great first step with dedicating funds for planning, so both ends of Lone Star Rail are moving in the right direction, but my concern is that it is going to take a whole lot more than that to get Lone Star Rail really going,” Nirenberg said. “We need to do more. We could certainly use the support of the state, but really it’s a regional cooperation issue. I am happy we are engaging in conversations along the corridor, but we need to focus if this project is going to get built.”

Nirenberg is heading Mayor Ivy Taylor’s SA Tomorrow long-term planning initiative launched in 2014 to address the city’s continuing sprawl, and projections that San Antonio’s population will grow by 1.1 million people by 2040. SA Tomorrow has three main components: a Comprehensive Plan, a Sustainability Plan and a Multimodal Transportation Plan.

“We are basically earmarking all funds for highway capacity building, and we know based on the data that is not the answer,” Nirenberg said. “The best case scenario is that it provides temporary relief in some places. The worst case scenario is that it leads to greater congestion by facilitating continued sprawl.”

The survey suggests that San Antonio’s worsening traffic congestion and continuing sprawl still leaves the city and County with opportunities to address the problem before congestion approaches the scale found in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth metro areas.

The second worst spot in the state is in Houston: IH-610 from Katy Highway to the Southwest Freeway, which the 2014 survey ranked the worst. Even with a light rail system, toll roads, and HOV lanes on some of its freeways, Harris County has 38 of the top 100 congested highways in the state. Dallas County has 18, Tarrant County has 10 and there are six other top 100 congestion points in suburban counties, giving the Metroplex a total of 34 spots on the list. Travis County has eight major congestion points with three more in neighboring Williamson County. Bexar County has 13 major congestion points and another in neighboring Guadalupe County.

The report assigns a monetary value to the congestion based on the added cost of gas, tolls and time lost by commuters. That economic cost for San Antonio is estimated at $800 million a year. For Bexar County commuters stuck in rush traffic, it might come as surprising news that the area’s most congested roadways don’t make the top 30 statewide list, all of which are located in the Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Austin metro areas. Here’s how San Antonio traffic stacks up on the statewide list.

Bexar County’s 13 Worst Congested Roadways on the States Top 100 List:

#32 U.S. 281 from Stone Oak Parkway to Loop 1604 is ranked as San Antonio’s worst spot.

#36 IH-35 and Loop 410 NE to Loop 410 E.

#39 IH-35 and IH-10 from Staff Sgt. William J. Bordelon Freeway to Cleto Rodriguez Freeway/U.S. 90.

#45 Loop 410 N from U.S. 281 to IH-10.

#46 IH-35 from Loop 1604 to Loop 410 NE.

#50 IH-10 from Loop 1604 to Loop 410 N.

#57 Loop 410 from IH-10 to Culebra Road.

#63 Loop 410 N from U.S. 281 to IH-35.

#82 Loop 1604 from U.S. 281 to IH-10.

#83 U.S. 281 from Loop 410 N to IH-35.

#85 U.S. 281 from Bitter Road to Loop 410.

#86 Loop 1604 from IH-10 to Braun Road.

#90 Eisenhauer Road from Austin Highway to Walzem Road.

Guadalupe County:

#78 IH-35 from Natural Bridge Caverns Road to Loop 1604.

TCI Director Terry Bellamy
TCI Director Terry Bellamy

“With the SA Tomorrow study we are using a tremendous amount of TxDOT 2040 Plan data to look at potential future projects to address future congestion,” said Terry Bellamy, the assistant director of the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department. “The underlining goal is to continue to keep San Antonio’s local arterials and collectors street multi-modal using the complete street model. With the projected growth in the key TxDOT corridors and expanded economic development, SA Tomorrow will address modal options, future land uses, connectivity and technology that can be deployed to continue to improve future mobility.

“Texas is continuing to grow, and finding the balance of the transportation options is one major objective that we will explore in the planning process with our citizens,” Bellamy said.

*Top image: Photo Courtesy of Montgomery County Planning Commission.  

Related Stories:

SA Tomorrow Survey to Inform Future of Bike Infrastructure, Culture

Take the City’s Cycling Survey, Then Ride With Caution

Transportation Pieces Take Shape for VIA, Comprehensive Plan

Commentary: Charter Amendment Derails San Antonio’s Transportation Future

Commentary: Transportation is a Quality of Life Issue

Avatar photo

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.