Bandera Road (SH 16) between Loop 410 and Loop 1604 has been a headache for the residents of Leon Valley and San Antonio for decades. Bandera is one of the most congested roads in the region as well as a hotspot for vehicle collisions. At its peak, the road moves 75,000 vehicles a day, dwarfing similar roads in the region, and this number is projected to double by 2047 to a whopping 150,000 vehicles.
This stretch of road has been the focus of numerous studies, the most recent of which is ongoing and began in 2019. This study, led by the Texas Department of Transportation, seeks to identify a mutually agreeable solution between impacted cities and TxDOT to improve congestion, safety and pedestrian accessibility. After three years of meetings and stakeholder engagement, TxDOT is proposing improvements to this corridor.
TxDOT hosted an open house on Oct. 26 to present the findings of the study thus far and the resulting recommendations. All concepts presented would require TxDOT to acquire additional right of way adjacent to Bandera Road, which would displace some businesses and multifamily housing. Right-of-way purchases would cost between $18 million and $250 million, depending on which concept is selected. Additionally, concepts presented vary in construction costs from $185 million to $410 million, according to the presentation.
The engineering firms contracted to perform this study evaluated how four concepts performed in simulations using projected 2047 vehicle counts, looking at travel times along key segments of Bandera Road.
The concept recommended by the firms appeared to prioritize lower costs over sustainability, but in order to more fully address issues with congestion and safety in the Bandera Road corridor, we need solutions that will serve the long-term needs of the community.
The best performing concept — parkway with grade separations concept — introduces drastic speed up along all key segments evaluated. Coming in second, the parkway with restricted crossing U-turn (RCUTs) concept performs well for much of the roadway, but more than doubles travel times for Bandera between Loop 410 through Huebner as compared to the grade separations concept.
The parkway with grade separations concept introduces overpasses and/or underpasses at key intersections to avoid the need for through traffic to stop. This concept is similar to road reconfiguration at Fredericksburg Road and Medical Drive implemented a few years ago, where a tunnel was dug underneath Fredericksburg to allow Medical Drive traffic to bypass the intersection when headed east to Interstate 10.
The parkway with RCUTs concept keeps all traffic at ground level while introducing innovative intersection configurations which increase the number of vehicles able to safely traverse the intersection over a period of time.
The parkway with grade separations concept was the most expensive option, with a total project cost of $435 million as compared to $203 million for the parkway with RCUTs concept. While both projects require approximately the same amount of additional right of way, complexities in the grade-separated design require a larger construction budget and longer schedule.
TxDOT’s recommendation based on the results of this study is to move forward with the cheaper, less effective, parkway with RCUTs concept. This option will result in us having roughly the same amount of traffic congestion in 2047 as we have today, according to engineers staffing TxDOT’s open house. Furthermore, the proposed design is incompatible with a phased approach to introducing more capacity as vehicle volumes grow in the future.
In other words, in 2047 when we again need to increase roadway capacity, the only option will be to demolish the $203 million investment in order to build out the grade-separated concept. If you further consider that between time to secure funding for the project and time to complete construction, improvements to Bandera are unlikely to be completed any sooner than 2032, we’re only left with 15 years of somewhat improved traffic before conditions return to today’s level of congestion. The return on investment is simply not there.
Of the four concepts presented, the only one that provides sufficient capacity increases to support traffic volumes projected past 2047 without significant travel time impacts is the parkway with grade separation. This concept is also compatible with a phased approach, where the project schedule initially focuses on road segments with immediate need, potentially without even lining up funding for later phases until needed. This approach allows for managing project costs as well as future-proofing the solution and avoiding wasted funds on temporary fixes.
When envisioning a solution for Bandera Road, we need big revolutionary ideas, not incremental improvements that will cost more in the long term and provide reduced benefits to the traveling public.