The fate of a key stretch of Broadway Street that the state voted to retain control over in January could be known within two weeks.
San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh told a roomful of real estate professionals Friday that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials have promised city leaders they will make a decision about their plans for the 2.2 miles of Broadway north of Interstate 35 by the first week of March.
But Walsh said the reason TxDOT made the abrupt and unexpected decision to rescind minute orders that effectively turned over the street to San Antonio in 2014 and 2015 could remain a mystery. “If you figure out what happened, you might find the lost city of gold,” he said.
Walsh spoke about the Broadway dispute during a noontime discussion hosted by the Real Estate Council of San Antonio that spanned topics of interest to local bankers, engineers, developers, attorneys and others working in real estate.
One of the hallmark projects of the 2017 bond, improvements to a portion of Broadway south of I-35 have been ongoing with the city already having spent $3 million on revamping that stretch of roadway, Walsh said.
“We made it very clear to TxDOT that the voters approved the project,” he said, along with the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and City Council, which approved Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone funding.
Walsh and Mayor Ron Nirenberg have met with Bruce Bugg, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, to make the case for sticking with San Antonio’s plan to revamp Broadway by reducing lanes and adding bike- and pedestrian-friendly features.
“We are still shooting for that project as designed and we’ve been very clear with the state: The city is not changing its position — it’s too important,” Walsh said.
Beyond Broadway, Walsh addressed a longer-term problem facing the city: the rate of growth beyond city limits and the city’s inability to annex those areas in order to develop the needed infrastructure. A state law passed in 2019 requires landowner or voter approval for most annexations.
“Everybody close your eyes and think 10, 15, 20 years from now,” he said. “That infrastructure in the county does not exist, it’s not being constructed, and the growth is continuing in that area. So from a regional perspective, I see potential issues countywide from an infrastructure standpoint and the basics — streets, drainage.”
Street maintenance is a major portion, along with other infrastructure improvements, of a $1.2 billion municipal bond package that City Council recently placed on the May 7 ballot.
Walsh also took the opportunity to talk about the 2022 bond program during the luncheon. If the six bond propositions are approved by voters, the money will be used to improve parks and build new ones, upgrade streets and city facilities, address drainage issues and fund affordable housing initiatives citywide.
“This bond program is … probably getting more public discussion and more community involvement than any other bond program the city has done,” he said.
City officials have also embarked on a significant effort to overhaul the San Antonio International Airport.
The estimated cost of the project is $2.5 billion and will add three new gates and culminate within the next two decades in new and expanded terminals.
Airport officials had the chance this week to show off those plans during the annual air transportation conference, Routes America, hosted for the first time in San Antonio.
Airport Director Jesus Saenz told the San Antonio Report that he and his staff held meetings with more than 40 airline representatives during the conference about adding flights serving new destinations, including international ones.
“The success of San Antonio and our growth is really tied to the airport,” said Cara Tackett, senior vice president at Pape-Dawson Engineers, who moderated the discussion with Walsh at the Grand Hyatt and asked him about the airport.
Walsh said the 2040 master plan for the airport is not that different from plans formulated in 2010 and 2000 that were never implemented. This time, there’s money coming from the Federal Aviation Administration for terminal redevelopment, and passenger growth justifies acting now.
“So we are on top of that,” he said. When the council approved the plans in November, Walsh said he stepped off the dais and told the airport director, “In 2031, whoever the city manager is, [he or she] is not going to say, ‘Why didn’t we do anything in 2021?’”
The city’s growth dominated the discussion between Tackett and Walsh, with the city manager also describing the year-long process that has begun to amend the Unified Development Code, which guides development practices citywide.
The code serves to balance progress and development with affordability, safety and the needs of neighborhoods. Public input and that of the real estate industry will be vital to the process, he said.
“Now’s your chance to talk about it,” he said. “I’m going to use a Broadway analogy. We want to go from three lanes down to one lane, right? So stay engaged.”
Pape-Dawson Engineers is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.