Motorists who frequently travel North Loop 1604 have been coping with lane closures, major gridlock and other impacts of construction for more than a year.
The first phase of the $1 billion lane expansion project began in May 2021 on a stretch of roadway spanning from State Highway 16 (Bandera Road) to Interstate 10.
That section is scheduled to be completed in 2024.
But the entire 23-mile project to widen North Loop 1604 to Interstate 35 on the Northeast Side is expected to continue for at least another 10 years, said Laura Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
“You’re going to see a lot of construction happening along 1604,” she said. “This is part of our Texas Clear Lanes initiative,” intended to ease traffic congestion on roadways.
At the start of the project, the agency that manages the state’s highway system said daily traffic volumes had reached 127,000 drivers on the 1604 corridor between Bandera Road and I-10.
By 2045, traffic volumes were expected to almost double — to 243,000 drivers a day. That’s a significant change to what was once a two-lane farm road that later became a four-lane freeway in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The long-delayed improvement project includes expanding the Loop 1604 expressway from four lanes to 10 with two access lanes and one high-occupancy vehicle lane in each direction. Toll roads are not a part of the project. Entrance and exit ramps will be reconfigured, and continuous sidewalks and bike paths are part of the plan.
The northwest and north sections of Loop 1604, from Braun Road to U.S. Highway 281 are two of the most choked thoroughfares in the state of Texas, ranking, according to a 2022 report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute of the 100 most congested roadways in the state.
TxDOT estimates the new-and-improved expressway will decrease future travel times by as much as 80 minutes in certain areas.
But the coming years promise ribbons of brake lights and stop-and-go traffic as construction work reaches into the next decade.
No more cloverleaf
The second and most costly segment of the North Loop 1604 project is focused on the I-10 interchange.
Dense with development, including the campuses of Valero and UTSA, La Cantera and the Rim, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and soon the San Antonio Spurs training center, the interchange also marks the gateway to explosive growth between San Antonio and Boerne.
Work began there in October 2022 and will take five years to complete.
At an estimated cost of $418 million, the project involves replacing the existing cloverleaf connectors with a five-level, direct-connect interchange similar to the flyovers at Loop 1604 and Highway 281.
In 2021, TxDOT also began construction on the third phase of the project, a nearly 10-mile stretch of 1604 between I-10 and 281.
Heavy equipment and massive piles of boulders now occupy the shoulders of the highway where bumper-to-bumper traffic often is the norm.
Along with widening the highway, road crews will remove the stoplights at frontage road intersections to improve traffic flow along the access roads.
In addition, a diverging diamond interchange is planned for Blanco Road and Loop 1604, an area dense with commercial activity including an H-E-B Plus! Store.
The diverging diamond interchange shifts traffic on the overpass to the opposite side of the road using two signalized crossover intersections, according to the Texas Highwayman.
This allows through traffic and left turns from Blanco to travel simultaneously, doubling the traffic that can move through the intersection at one time and cutting travel times by an estimated three-fourths or more.
Unfunded segments and I-35
The estimated completion of the third segment is 2025 — the same year that the fourth segment, improving the highway from 281 to Redland Road, is expected to start.
But funding has not been secured for that part of the project, according to TxDOT, nor for the final phase, spanning Redland Road to I-35.
While TxDOT and the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization are working to obtain funding, money to complete the expansion also could come through the federal infrastructure law passed in 2021.
At Loop 1604 and I-35, construction is already underway on the $1.5 billion Northeast Expansion Central project, which affects some traffic flow on 1604.
After a project kickoff last May, work began in June to add six elevated lanes to the stretch of I-35 from the Loop 410 interchange north to FM 3009 in Schertz, the corridor with the fastest-growing traffic volumes in the United States, according to TxDOT.
The elevated lanes will accommodate about one-third of the traffic that travels through the corridor, said TxDOT Program Manager Daniel Wharton.
It will take over 1,500 concrete columns to support the elevated lanes, and about 50 have been installed so far. “So we’re just getting started,” he said.
The I-35 project is expected to be completed in late 2027.
Starting Jan. 28, the Loop 1604 eastbound entrance ramp near Lookout Road will become permanently closed along with the temporary turnarounds and intersection closures at Lookout Road.
Virtual flyovers, too
In the meantime, if you’ve ever been stuck in traffic and fantasized about going airborne to reach your destination, check out the virtual flyover with TxDOT’s 3D visualization video showing what the expanded 1604 will look like when the construction is complete.
Digital message boards along the corridor alert drivers to lane closures and construction activity.
But if it feels to you like the construction is nonstop day and night, be aware that TxDOT attempts to schedule its daytime work on Loop 1604 Mondays through Saturdays.
Nighttime work and lane closures should take place between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., Sundays through Fridays, according to TxDOT.
To receive updates about the project, you can sign up with your email on the TxDOT site here. The issues and complaint line is also open — click here.