Curing the choking congestion at the State Highway 46/Interstate 35 intersection isn’t going to be fast or cheap, the Texas Department of Transportation’s study of the location says.
But completing the study itself means help is on the way.
“Beginning in February or March there will be some public gatherings and meetings (for input) on what’s going to happen there,” Comal County Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin Webb said. “We’ve talked to the elected officials, but now we need to find out what the public needs are.”
Fixing the worst local traffic issue has gone from talk and past the drawing board and is now poised to go before a public thirsty for a solution. Webb said drivers had best prepare now for that — and TxDOT’s NEX Project, the six-lane elevated expansion of I-35 that will start next summer.
“We’re really excited about it, but (both) are going to be major adjustments for folks commuting to and from Seguin and to and from San Antonio,” Webb said. “People need to start making plans for how they are going (to drive around) that.
“As soon as TxDOT comes out with their schedule — they are committed to keeping I-35’s main lanes open — we will do that.”
Webb chairs the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which distributes state and federal dollars for regional mobility projects in Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe counties and part of Kendall County. The AAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board prioritizes funding for short-term and longer-term mobility projects, including three locally that are currently under construction.
Underneath I-35 is Farm-to-Market Road 306 and Creekside Crossing’s conversion into a Displaced Left Turn (DLT) intersection. The $18 million project reconfigured entry and exit ramps north and south of the intersection, which is similar to the DLT to the State Highway 80/I-35 intersection in San Marcos.
“The east side of FM 306 will be in final configuration by the end of winter (February-March 2022) and project completion is anticipated Spring/Summer 2022,” said Carlos Ancila, TxDOT assistant area engineer.
A $63 million project to add I-35 main lanes and frontage lanes in both directions in a six mile stretch between New Braunfels and Hays County is scheduled to wrap in March 2023. Loop 337’s $14.2 million River Road overpass over the existing road between Rock Street and Word Parkway, should be finished around the same time. Other recent local TxDOT projects included I-35 improvements between Solms Road and FM 725/Seguin Avenue, frontage road improvements to and from the FM 1103 bridge, and the city of New Braunfels’ downtown San Antonio Street bridge over the Comal River.
“The FM 306 intersection is problematic in so many different ways, namely too many people within a confined space,” Webb said. “Hopefully this intersection will increase safety and decrease wait times. Though it’s in progress, hopefully we’ll see it soon.”
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed starts of pieces critical to TxDOT’s $4.5 billion expansion between San Antonio and Austin.
The $1.5 billion phase to add three elevated, two general-purpose lanes and one high-occupancy lane in each direction between North Walters Street in San Antonio to FM 3009 in Schertz will begin next summer. It will add 9.5 miles of improvements along I-35, with direct connections to I-410 north and Loop 1604 west and east.
The project also includes incidental construction necessary to transition the elevated lanes and connectors with the existing highways including revisions to ramps and frontage roads and accommodations for drainage, utilities, signs, and other highway improvements.
Months ago Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher, working to expand and improve roads linking his county with other adjacent counties, said the majority of the 46/35 study is done; but “There may be some different options or ideas that will come forward, but it’s good to see that there’s movement – because a couple of years ago it was only conversation.”
Webb said the study is only lacks a timetable and cost projection – which, depending on the design, could range from between $200 million and $400 million.
“They need the public to guide us on that, which is part of it,” Webb said. “Most people believe we’ll need flyovers (at I-35). When we do the funding, we’ll have to get into TxDOT’s big statewide planning program just because of its size, which is not what any city or county can do on their own right now and will likely need (input) from Austin.”
In the meantime, intermittent closures of I-35 northbound and southbound lanes – between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., seven-days a week, will continue indefinitely, including installations of beams throughout the rest of the month.
TxDOT asks holiday drivers to expect delays, use patience, and if possible use alternate routes.