Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) and the City are working together to help fund solutions to infrastructure challenges occurring just outside the fence lines of local bases.

Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, commander of JBSA, briefed the City Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Wednesday.

With its “Military City USA” moniker, the City could further demonstrate support for local military missions by partnering on potential infrastructure projects such as drainage improvements, better signage along gates and fence lines, and safer entrance points, said Pringle. Such projects, she added, could benefit JBSA and the neighborhoods surrounding each affected base.

JBSA officials enumerated five priorities that together would cost more than $6.7 million. But JBSA has requested neither a specific dollar amount nor a timetable to complete any of the projects. Rather, Pringle said, JBSA just wants to bring its proposed projects to the City’s attention and see what level of assistance can be given.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who sat in on Wednesday’s meeting, and Committee members agreed all of the proposed projects are worthy of support.

But, he added, it’s too early for the City to commit to any level of financial assistance. He suggested that City staff start to look at which City budget or bond dollars may already be used or scheduled for projects close to local bases.

“We all believe that our support of your mission is non-negotiable, so we want to do what we can, wherever we can,” Nirenberg told Pringle.

As the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) seeks to make the military more cost-efficient, Nirenberg said it’s critical for the City to be consistent in its support for local military missions.

The Council in December passed a resolution reaffirming the community’s backing of the military medical mission at Fort Sam and Brooke Army Medical Center.

“We’ll look for any opportunity to be supportive of these projects,” Nirenberg said.

Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), the committee’s chairman, said the projects represent a prime opportunity for the City to raise its level of investment into, and support for, the military’s presence. He added that he hopes City staffers will return to the committee with their review of JBSA’s proposals and partnership options as soon as possible.

“This is going to be a cut above what we’ve been doing previously,” Saldaña said.

“In the past, we had been working with things like collaborations on library services or some other medium-grade support. This is going to be more high-grade.”

A top priority for JBSA is to widen the Growdon Road checkpoint entrance gate from two to three lanes to accommodate traffic entering Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, located southwest of downtown. Up to 200 commercial vehicles enter Lackland at the Growdon gate daily, Pringle said, transporting everything from food supplies to construction materials. JBSA estimates building a third lane at the Growdon gate would cost $450,000.

“What we found is that [vehicles] stack up and become a safety hazard due to the volume that comes through the narrow windows of time,” she said.

“This is one area where building a third lane would enhance the safety of the community and lessen traffic congestion in that area. It would also increase security of the installation.”

JBSA also wants to study the traffic entering and exiting Lackland, as well as Randolph, Fort Sam Houston, and Camp Bullis. There are more than 50 gates across these installations, many of which cause traffic to back up to nearby freeways, farm-to-market roads, and other major corridors.

“For example, out at Camp Bullis, where they have a lot of growth – what is the impact of that traffic of folks trying to get in?” Pringle said.

Pringle added that traffic entering Fort Sam typically backs to Interstate 35. The Valley High Road gate at Lackland is another major traffic hotspot, she said. Such a comprehensive study would cost $2.2 million.

“But together, we could look at the areas of highest interest and priorities,” Pringle said.

A third priority is shoring up signage and control points to improve driver safety along the fence lines of each base.

Pringle explained that after passing an entrance gate, a control point is where military personnel check the identity and purpose of each individual and vehicle entering a base. These spots tend to back up with traffic at peak times in the day.

After sunset, some gates become harder see for some motorists, and occasionally a driver accidentally runs into a gate or fence, Pringle said.

Pringle said better or more signage and deflectors could improve safety for drivers and checkpoint personnel at each facility. The idea is to ensure the gates also meet anti-terrorism protection standards.

JBSA estimates it would cost about $250,000 to examine a select base gate. JBSA anticipates it could study up to nine gates altogether. It would take another $80,000 total to examine key fence-line locations citywide.

“Joint Base San Antonio is No. 1 in the [U.S. Department of Defense] for the number of gate runners,” Pringle said of motorists who inadvertently run through a gate.

Local base entry gates were open to public traffic prior to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Public access was closed and more security protocols were implemented following the attacks. Pringle said some motorists have not gotten used to local bases being no longer open to public traffic.

“We used to be open before, so a lot of these [gate-running incidents] are clear shots,” she said. “So we’re looking for ways to get slower traffic.”

A fourth priority is to determine stormwater improvement projects around each base. Pringle said at times of heavy rainfall, a base fence near or crossing a drainage culvert may be damaged by debris. JBSA estimates it would cost $680,000 to study drainage around each facility.

“The idea here is when you take care of an issue with excessive stormwater upstream, it facilitates how it interacts downstream,” Pringle said.

The fifth goal for JBSA is to help clear a path for the City to connect the Salado Creek Greenway from John James Park to Jack White Park. Pringle said JBSA is considering demolishing some paddocks and an existing barn on the eastern end of the Fort Sam property.

The paddocks, used by on-base families for recreational purposes, could be relocated on base with support from the Air Force Services Agency, Pringle said. JBSA estimates it would cost $1.3 million total to raze the paddocks and barn, and build a new barn elsewhere.

“We think this might be an area of mutual interest,” she said.

The Intergovernmental Relations Committee meets in the Media Briefing Room at City Hall.
The Intergovernmental Relations Committee meets in the Media Briefing Room at City Hall. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Committee member Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) asked the City to keep promoting to the public the opportunity for partnerships among the public and private sectors and the military.

“We need to continue to get this information out into the City on how important the military is here,” he said.

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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.