Proponents of San Antonio’s Broadway renovation hope Gov. Greg Abbott will back down on his opposition to lane reductions — a key feature of the project’s multimodal corridor — after the November election.
But transportation activists who’ve supported the governor are seeking to tie his hands on the issue as Abbott heads into a tightening reelection race this fall.
Plank 63 in the 2022 Texas GOP platform, released Wednesday, calls for the party to oppose “anti-car measures,” including ‘road diet’ mandates designed to shrink auto capacity and/or intentionally clog vehicle lanes to force deference to pedestrian, bike, and mass transit options.”
Kerrville conservative activist Terri Hall, whose group Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom (TURF) fights toll roads and lane reduction projects across the state, pushed for the plank’s inclusion.
“Abbott campaigned on, ‘We’re going to fix our roads without tolls, taxes and increasing fees, so that started us down a great path with him,” Hall said. TURF endorsed Abbott for governor in 2014 because of his opposition to toll roads, which his Republican predecessor Rick Perry championed.
“It may be true [that the lane reductions on Broadway are allowed after the election] because Abbott’s pretty weak,” said Hall. “But I can tell you, we did get a plank in the [GOP] platform that will make it very hard for the governor to back away from his stance on this.”
Abbott’s office did not respond to an email requesting a comment on the Broadway project Thursday.
Across the state, Hall said her group of activists have leaned on a good relationship with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and J. Bruce Bugg Jr., chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission that oversees TxDOT, to stop cities from pursuing thoroughfare makeover projects like Broadway, even if political donors might favor them.
Residents living around “major urban areas, they’re all upset with what’s happened to the downtown areas,” said Hall, whose group counts tens of thousands of members across the state, including Republicans and Democrats.
“[The cities] have put so much interference in the way of cars, which of course causes congestion, which causes idling of cars which causes more emissions, which causes all the other problems everybody gripes about,” she said.
City spokeswoman Laura Mayes declined to comment.
TxDOT has already sided with TURF in taking a stance against reducing capacity on the state highway system, including the reduction of travel lanes.
In the case of Broadway, TxDOT took the added step of reclaiming ownership of the road to stop San Antonio and Alamo Heights from reducing the number of lanes for a project taxpayers in both cities had already approved as part of a bond package.
Though the move caused shockwaves for developers in the area, including some Republicans who’ve supported Abbott and want to see the project completed as planned, it pleased the activists.
“My initial thought when this happened was … this is obviously very politically motivated,” said Kevin Wolff, a Republican who sits on the board of an agency that coordinates the area’s state, local and federal transportation plans. “The governor is coming into an election cycle and knows what appeals to his base and what doesn’t.”
Abbott easily defeated his primary challengers in March. Republicans remain concerned about waning enthusiasm among the GOP base headed into November, when Abbott faces a challenge from Democrat Beto O’Rourke.
Months after TxDOT sent letters to San Antonio and Alamo Heights demanding they scrap plans for the lane closures, both the activists who oppose the lane reductions and the developers who want Broadway revamped remain cautiously optimistic that the governor and Bugg will side with them after the election.
Don Dixon, a retired engineer and TURF member who lives in Terrell Hills, is among the activists who has attended the transportation commission’s meetings to lobby against projects that seek to close lanes on state highways.
Dixon lives roughly six blocks from Broadway, near Austin Highway, and said he fears that reducing the number of lanes from six to four near downtown will cause traffic to back up on a road he uses nearly every day.
“It’s almost congested at peak times, like travel to work in the morning and travel home in the evenings,” said Dixon.
Hall said activists in Kerrville also found Bugg to be receptive when they tried to stop a similar project in that Hill Country city.
“The city wouldn’t listen so we went to the transportation commission and overturned that project,” said Hall. The city “just didn’t ever get the money or approval” it needed.
Last month the Alamo Area Metropolitan Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO), which oversees the federal funding for Broadway’s renovation, moved San Antonio’s project out of its short-range plan, giving the city and state time to come to a solution on the lane reductions.
“When this first cropped up, my positive outlook was that … we get past November and things will shake out and we’ll continue to move forward,” said Wolff, a member of the AAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board. “As time has dragged on, and more fights have happened … that just makes feelings harder, so I’m worried about even after the elections.”
Though Hall said her group has worked well with Bugg, she also acknowledged the challenging position of enforcing a policy in his own backyard. Abbott reappointed Bugg, a banker with significant business interests in the area, to a second six-year term in February 2021.
“Chairman Bugg was chosen as chairman because San Antonio has been left out as far as representation on that commission for a long time,” said Hall.
“At the commission level … he’s been very outspoken about this many times,” she said of Bugg’s opposition to lane closures. But “it’s a little more esoteric when” the projects are “where you don’t live and work yourself.”
“He no doubt knows that corridor and what we’re talking about when we talk about it … I’m sure there is a lot of push-pull here.”