State and local officials gathered at one of the busiest highway intersections in San Antonio on Wednesday to break ground on the Interstate 35 Northeast Expansion Central project.
Construction is set to start this summer on the $1.5 billion project that will add six elevated lanes to the stretch of I-35 from the Loop 410 interchange north to FM 3009 in Schertz.
Over 200,000 vehicles a day travel through the area, according to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). That number is expected to double by 2044, making it the fastest growing corridor in the United States.
The project is expected to be completed in 2027.
The 9.5-mile stretch spanning eight municipalities and Bexar, Comal and Guadalupe counties is part of a larger project to expand a 20-mile stretch of I-35 from North Walters Street on San Antonio’s East Side to FM 1103 near the Northcliffe neighborhood in Schertz.
“We’re in the heart of growth, and that’s a good thing,” said J. Bruce Bugg Jr., chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, which governs TxDOT. “But with that growth and population comes what we’re dealing with out here — and that is congestion.”
The project is also critical for economic development, which goes “hand-in-glove” with transportation, Bugg said. He pointed to highway improvements and the recently opened Navistar truck assembly plant in South San Antonio as an example.
“Navistar needed transportation and TxDOT stepped up … and that’s how Navistar basically ended up coming to the city of San Antonio,” he said during the groundbreaking ceremony in the Santikos Galaxy Theater parking lot near the I-35 and Loop 410 interchange.
In January, Bugg led the commission in voting to retain Broadway Street as a state highway, short-circuiting the City of San Antonio’s plans to redevelop a 2.2-mile stretch of the downtown corridor into a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly thoroughfare.
Bugg characterized San Antonio as the “fastest-growing large city in the entire United States.”
“That’s why we can’t reduce our lane capacity,” he said. “We have to grow our lane capacity so that people, not only in the state of Texas but right here in San Antonio, have the ability to get from home to work to school, back home and meet the needs.”
But city leaders have said they are committed to the lane-reduction plan voters approved in 2017 and requested a meeting with TxDOT to resolve the issue.
“We’re in talks,” Bugg said. “We will actually be speaking directly with the mayor of San Antonio [and] the city manager of San Antonio this week.”
I-35 NEX Central, as the project is known, is one of a number of roadway construction projects intended to reduce congestion in Texas’ largest cities, where populations are expected to grow by 55% to 110% in the next two decades.
Interstate 35 is one of the state’s most congested highways. But it’s also one of the most important, said state Sen. José Menéndez, whose district is within Bexar County.
“[Interstate] 35 goes all the way from the U.S.-Mexico border all the way to Canada,” Menéndez said. “So we connect the entire heart of the United States through I-35. It is one of the most important freeways … in the nation. It’s an international system that we need to keep moving.”
The San Antonio portion of the I-35 NEX project includes adding six lanes — one high-occupancy vehicle lane and two general-purpose lanes in each direction — that will be elevated above the existing roadway.
Crews also will build ramps connecting main lanes to elevated lanes and reconfigure some main lane ramps along the route.
At Loop 1604, the lanes and bridges from Nacogdoches Road to east of Biltmore Lakes will be rebuilt or widened. The I-35 lanes from north of Olympia Parkway to south of FM 3009 also will be widened.
The lead contractor is Alamo NEX Construction, a company comprised of the Spain-based Ferrovial Construction and its contracting firm Webber of Houston, which has already begun preliminary work on the project.
Construction is set to start this summer but a date has not been set.
TxDOT spokeswoman Laura Lopez said it’s too soon to know how construction on the project will affect travel times.
“We’re definitely going to try to keep the main lanes open as much as possible,” Lopez said.
TxDOT alerts motorists two weeks before scheduled lane closures and traffic switches that will last more than 24 hours. Sign up for email alerts here.