A key stretch of Broadway Street will remain part of the state highway system following a vote Thursday by the Texas Transportation Commission. 

The governing body of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) approved rescinding minute orders from 2014 and 2015 that effectively transferred the 2.2-mile stretch of roadway from Burr Road south to Interstate 35 to the City of San Antonio. 

The move by the commission to retain Broadway as a state highway came as a surprise to city leaders, who scrambled this week to launch a campaign against it after learning of TxDOT’s plan to retain control of the thoroughfare.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg called the decision of the five-member panel led by San Antonio banker J. Bruce Bugg Jr. “illogical” and “absolutely unnecessary.” 

The city planned to spend $42 million on improving the corridor for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, as approved by voters as the single largest project in the 2017 municipal bond. Businesses have spent millions of dollars in new development along Broadway and work has already begun on parts of the project closest to downtown. 

To assert its authority, the state transportation commission relied on the fact that a project acceptance letter that would have finalized the deal was never issued. 

The decision is intended to stop the city from reducing the seven-lane roadway to four lanes, which the commission said is too limiting for the operation of the state highway system. 

The commission cited TxDOT’s clear lanes initiative, a 2015 plan by Gov. Greg Abbott to reduce traffic congestion throughout the state, as its justification for retaining control of the roadway. 

“I feel strongly that if this commission does not take this action today, and capacity is reduced from three lanes in each direction to two lanes … we would allow an action that would be in direct conflict with our stated policy to provide congestion relief for the state of Texas, specifically in San Antonio,” said Bugg, who is chairman, president and CEO of three bank holding companies as well as chairman of the Tobin Endowment. 

Gina Gallegos, district engineer for TxDOT’s San Antonio District, told the commission that the state has controlled and maintained the roadway for the last seven years, spending $1.3 million in maintenance alone. Gallegos also described traffic studies conducted by the department that indicate reducing lanes will increase congestion. 

“At this time, looking at the traffic data and analyzing what we have out there, reducing a lane in each direction as well as taking away that center left-turn lane throughout is not the most beneficial way to go,” she said.

On Thursday, Assistant City Manager Jeff Coyle also appeared before the commission to request a delay so the city could work with TxDOT and keep the project to transform Broadway into a multimodal urban street on track.

“Certainly we can work together on a resolution that preserves the essence of this project and frankly preserves our contract with the voters,” Coyle said. “Certainly we can get together on a project of this magnitude … that has been the subject of years of collaboration between our agencies and come up with a solution. It warrants more than an abrupt unilateral halt of the project.”

Community advocates also made their case for the city’s plan to put Broadway on a “road diet,” making it safer for both pedestrians and cycling. “What I’d like to see is more compassion for other road users besides car drivers,” said Bryan Martin of Bike San Antonio

Coyle told the commission that there was no need to rescind the order to ensure that the City would continue to work with TxDOT on solutions.

Bugg acknowledged that the two groups should cooperate and “listen” to each other, but that the state is not willing to negotiate on the lane count. 

“The only thing is we cannot reduce our capacity,” Bugg said. “That’s what we’ve tried to make crystal clear and that’s why we need to take the action we’re contemplating taking today — to set the record straight.”

Nirenberg said that the decision of the commission should not put an end to a project that voters supported.  

“The work that had been done over the last six years to make Broadway Street a complete street — voter-approved by 73% — was an effort to increase safety, to reduce congestion and slow the speed of what is a corridor for business transactions, residential, as well as bicycle and pedestrian commuting,” he said, misstating the results of the 2017 bond election. The bond was approved by 78% of those who voted.

The timing of the commission’s ruling came as a surprise given the city has worked closely with the agency on the project. 

“We’re worried about congestion, too,” Nirenberg said. “Which is why we have traffic analyses and public meetings to help us determine with the public what’s the right way forward.

“We’re after the same things and that is to have a vibrant corridor, a safe corridor, a corridor that reduces congestion and improves the quality of life for our San Antonio community.”

It’s not known what action the city may take next. 

“We’re disappointed in the complete about-face by TxDOT after working with the city and stakeholders for the last six years,” said City Manager Erik Walsh. “It’s not clear how the state will accomplish what the voters approved without reducing the current seven lanes of traffic, but we will stay focused on developing a path forward to deliver the project the community expects.”

The move to take over Broadway was a shock by most accounts. In a campaign that proved unsuccessful, nearly two dozen city and business leaders on Wednesday sent letters to Bugg asking that the commission vote down the takeover. 

“The announcement of the Broadway corridor project has already catalyzed economic development,” the letter states. “The decision is simple: allow Broadway to prosper.”

A conceptual illustration of the Broadway corridor project was attached to a letter sent by San Antonio business leaders addressed to J. Bruce Bugg Jr. and Gov. Greg Abbott. Credit: Public Record

Also during the meeting, the commission recognized five-term County Judge Nelson Wolff with a resolution honoring his 50 years of public service to transportation in Texas but Wolff did not appear at the meeting. 

Reporter Waylon Cunningham contributed to this story.

This story has been updated to clarify the results of the 2017 bond election.

The Tobin Endowment is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.