Workers look over construction at U.S. Highway 281 North and Loop 1604. Credit: Courtesy Joseph Cook

When Gov. Greg Abbott appointed San Antonio businessman J. Bruce Bugg Jr. to the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) in early 2015, one of Bugg’s early objectives was to help the commission prioritize key transportation projects throughout the state.

One of those projects has aimed to reduce traffic congestion on U.S. Highway 281 North between Loop 1604 and the Comal County line.

That same year, Abbott directed the five-member TTC, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), to assemble a comprehensive statewide strategy to improve mobility around San Antonio and other major metropolitan areas in Texas.

That project, known as Texas Clear Lanes, has prioritized traffic “chokepoints” in these metro areas and identified funding mechanisms to support improvements.

J. Bruce Bugg Jr.
J. Bruce Bugg Jr. Credit: Courtesy / J. Bruce Bugg Jr.

Texas voters in 2014 and 2015 approved Propositions 1 and 7, helping to secure significant new funding sources for highway improvements. Moving those monies through the Clear Lanes initiative was a game changer for projects such as Hwy. 281, Bugg explained.

“When I came to the commission, this project was going to include a toll road,” said Bugg, who just completed the first year of a six-year term as TTC chairman. “My focus was to remove the tolls. It was a project in dire need of getting built and without tolls.”

Fast-tracking the Hwy. 281 and similar projects without toll roads has been an overarching goal for Abbott, Bugg, and other leaders.

In a recent press release, TxDOT said Clear Lanes is helping improve traffic conditions for all types of motorists in a state whose population and economy continue to grow.

Since 2015, TTC has directed more than $24 billion toward alleviating congestion in major metropolitan areas as part of the 10-year, $75.4 billion Unified Transportation Program.

More than 1,300 lane miles have been added to state roads, and more than 2,600 non-tolled road projects worth $11 billion have been completed since 2015.

TxDOT’s construction budget is now the largest funding package in the history of Texas governance, the release stated.

“281 from 1604 to Comal County is now a non-tolled project,” Bugg said. “This is a classic example of being a benefit of the Clear Lanes initiative.”

The $179.5 million expansion of Hwy. 281 north of Loop 1604, a project that will include two high-occupancy vehicle lanes and northern interchange connections at 1604, is expected to be completed in March 2021.

Other local Clear Lanes-funded projects currently under construction in the San Antonio area include Loop 410/U.S. Highway 90, Interstate 10 East from Loop 410 to Loop 1604, and Loop 1604 from Interstate 35 to Farm Road 78.

Three more local improvement projects are scheduled for funding through Clear Lanes: Loop 410 from Hwy. 90 to Ingram Road, Loop 410 at I-10 East interchange, and I-35 from Loop 410 to Farm Road 3009.

Additionally, TTC and TxDOT seek to improve safety for motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists statewide.

The transportation commission has also directed $3.4 billion to repair roadways in the Permian Basin over the next 10 years. The State of Texas currently has $8.5 billion available for possible allocation to Clear Lanes projects across the state.

Bugg said monthly meetings with TxDOT executives and engineers from different TxDOT districts have helped in developing plans to improve each identified traffic chokepoint. All are informed by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which releases an annual report on the 100 worst traffic bottlenecks statewide.

“That way, we’re aware of the latest [traffic] trends,” Bugg said.

Bugg said with more people and business opportunities entering Texas, residents and business owners can rely on state leaders to understand the need to direct billions toward road improvements.

“The ‘high-five’ moment is when a project you’ve been building gets delivered to Texas motorists,” he added. “It’s about improving people’s lives.”

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.