San Antonian and Texas Transportation Commission Chairman J. Bruce Bugg, Jr. frequently makes the drive down Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin – but it’s not a pleasant route.
“I use that all the time,” he said. “It’s a parking lot.”
Bugg included the recent Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) plan for I-35 in his speech Wednesday at an annual meeting hosted by the San Antonio Mobility Coalition (SAMCo).
At the State of the TxDOT District luncheon, Bugg promised the audience his main focus was to “execute, execute, execute” road projects as quickly and economically as possible. The Texas Transportation Commission is comprised of five commissioners that oversee TxDOT.
“We’re trying to deploy these precious taxpayer dollars and we’re deploying those in efficient and effective ways on roads and when they need to be built,” he said.
San Antonio District Engineer Mario Jorge also spoke at Wednesday’s luncheon, presenting a summary of all the projects the San Antonio district is working on and those getting underway soon.
“Right now, we have 152 active construction contracts totaling over $2.2 billion,” Jorge said.
Since 2015, TxDOT has started more than 5,600 projects around the state, Bugg said. The department has completed more than 5,000 projects since January 2015, and there are currently more than $20 billion in active construction projects statewide.
The Transportation Commission recently awarded San Antonio more than $1 billion in its 2020 Unified Transportation Plan, which Bugg explained acts as a 10-year budget. Because most of the agency’s revenue comes from state highway and gas taxes, 97 percent of available funding is restricted to “surface transportation,” meaning highways, Bugg said. The remaining three percent can be used for transit. Any funding for projects like an intercity passenger rail line between San Antonio and Austin would require private dollars or federal funding.
“Where we need to get the money for that rail project, in my opinion, is federal transit dollars, [which is] what built the rail system in the Northeast corridor,” Bugg said. “Those federal dollars, because of our enormous growth in Texas, need to come back to Texas, because they built out their Northeast corridor transit system. We need those federal dollars now to build these rail projects.”
One of the larger San Antonio-area projects that the commission allocated funding for involves expanding Loop 1604 to from four lanes to a 10-lane expressway between State Highway 16 and I-35.
“We know it’s as congested as all get-out,” Bugg said. “When I moved here in 1979, 1604 was basically empty. Now, it is just jam-packed.”
The expansion of 1604 – which includes remaking the Interstate 10 and 1604 connection into a five-level interchange – will cost an estimated $1 billion. The project already has more than $600 million in funding, some of which comes from Proposition 1 passed in 2014 and Proposition 7 passed in 2015.
“I’m excited about that,” Bugg said of the 1604 project.
Bugg and Jorge both touched on the agency’s Road to Zero program, a new initiative that works to reduce the number of highway deaths. As of Tuesday, 2,732 fatalities had occurred on Texas highways in 2019, Jorge said. By Wednesday, the number had risen to 2,832. TxDOT hopes to end a streak that started on Nov. 7, 2000, he said.
“That’s the last day no one died on our highways,” Jorge said.
The agency has set aside $600 million for its safety initiative to encourage people to practice safer driving habits, such as wearing seatbelts, not driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not speeding, and not driving while distracted by electronic devices.