The release last week of a Texas plan to spend a record $85 billion over the next decade on hundreds of highway projects – including about $2.5 billion in the San Antonio area – without a dollar spent on urban transit has again brought attention to the state’s transportation priorities.

The Texas Department of Transportation’s “Unified Transportation Plan,” or UTP, is updated annually and directs federal and state funding toward highway, bridge, transit, airport, ferry , bicycle and pedestrian labeled as the most important for TxDOT to start over the next 10 years.

The top projects TxDOT lists for its 12-county San Antonio region are familiar to most local drivers. Among them in Bexar County are: the addition of six express lanes to Interstate 35 between the 410 south and north loop, $940 million; 1604 Loop from Texas 16 to US 281, 291 million; Loop 410 interchange at US$281.80 million; and an upgrade to US$90.126 million.

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Virtual public hearing

July 26, 2 p.m.

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Source: Texas Department of Transportation

$85.1 billion: Total Spending in the Unified Transportation Plan, 2023-32

$80.1 billion: Amount of that dedicated to motorways

32: Percentage of state highway spending in 2022 paid for with federal funds

2,143: Total road deaths set as state goal for 2032

4,480: Statewide road deaths in 2021

Source: Texas Department of Transportation

Among the projects outside the county are: Interstate 10 widening at Cibolo from the Bexar-Guadalupe County line to FM 465, $153 million; widening of I-10 in Seguin from FM 464 to Texas 123, $193 million; and the expansion of I-35 in Comal County from the Guadalupe County line to FM 1103, $200 million.

The priorities build on the record $3 billion already under construction statewide, officials said, following increased spending on TxDOT starting in 2014.

“We have dirt flying all over the state of Texas,” said San Antonio banker J. Bruce Bugg, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

Opponents of major freeway projects in Houston and Austin have said they will use a review process to oppose funding under the plan.

Jay Crossley, director of Farm&City, an Austin-based nonprofit think tank, said the plan reflects how the Legislature has “tied the hands of TxDOT and forced them to spend billions on unnecessary things like the expansion of highways” and the widening of formerly rural roads. in corridors encouraging self-reliant suburban development.

Crossley’s group argues for a balance of spending that favors maintenance and security upgrades, and it called the new plan “a dramatic improvement over last year, as TxDOT restored something like 800 million dollars for statewide safety improvements over the next 10 years.”

He said San Antonio could get about $80 million from this “safety pot,” which could bolster ongoing efforts to make dangerous city boulevards less deadly. TxDOT has already done this on Culebra Road, as an example, building raised pedestrian islands with electronic crossing beacons to make navigating the busy road a little safer.

Crossley cited multi-year surveys from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research that suggest about 45% of registered voters in Houston want more state funding for urban transit.

“I think you would find the same in San Antonio,” he said. “About a third of those polled in Houston said they want more walkable communities. The Texas legislature largely ignores those wishes.

One example, Crossley said, was the proposed redevelopment of the Broadway Corridor to make the section north of downtown more bike- and pedestrian-friendly by widening sidewalks, removing a traffic lane and improving bike lanes. . This voter-approved project was thwarted by the Texas Transportation Commission. Bugg, its chairman, cited a 2015 directive from Gov. Greg Abbott to ease congestion on state highways as the reason for the disconnect.

City Manager Erik Walsh called the move “a complete turnaround by TxDOT after working with the city and stakeholders for the past six years.” Mayor Ron Nirenberg ridiculed the commission’s decision as “1950s thinking” and mocked Bugg for saying that “97 percent of Texans drive a car or truck,” suggesting that the priorities of state pro-freeway guarantees that Texans have no alternative.

The commission will review the statewide plan after going through the month-long public comment period, which opened Friday and ends at 4 p.m. Aug. 8. A virtual public hearing is scheduled for July 26. Approval is scheduled for August 30.

Of the $12.5 billion earmarked for the Houston area in the plan, nearly half, $6.13 billion, is for rebuilding Interstate 45 from downtown Houston north to at Beltway 8 near Greenspoint.

The project, which TxDOT officials defend as a necessary upgrade to a badly aging highway that desperately needs safety upgrades and more capacity, remains on hold through a federal review and an ongoing lawsuit by the Harris County. Officials said they hoped a resolution acceptable to state and local leaders would allow the project to proceed.

A group formed to oppose the project, called Stop TxDOT I-45, has pledged to fight its inclusion in the UTP.

“It is unfortunate that we have to seek the removal of funding, but we believe this is the only way to avert the catastrophe that TxDOT is working toward,” the group said in a statement. “TxDOT’s expansion plan is too advanced to fix. TxDOT has shown that it will advance the I-45 expansion at all costs.

Opponents of an Interstate 35 expansion and reconstruction project in Austin have expressed concerns over the inclusion of the $4.3 billion project in the UTP.

Despite alarm over some of the biggest projects, major spending changes are also being made to the state’s long-term plans, Crossley noted. Federal funding in last year’s transportation bill and transportation commission decisions mean safer streets around schools. Spending on so-called transportation alternatives — projects such as bike lanes and sidewalks — is skyrocketing from $910.5 million in the current UTP to $1.7 billion in the proposed plan.

People “will see a different set of projects because of it,” Crossley said.

These projects, and potentially all others, will likely cost more as the prices of construction materials, including steel and concrete, climb. In May, open tenders for TxDOT projects were 26% above estimates, reflecting a spike in costs that officials say could last for some time.

To offset potential increases, officials have proposed allowing the transportation committee to approve projects costing up to 25% more than expected, under certain conditions. As with any project listed in the UTP, the cost is not finalized until the project is ready for construction.

“This is meant to keep us nimble,” Jessica Butler, director of planning and programming for TxDOT, said of the 25% cushion.

That agility, however, has been a drag on what officials hailed as record investment in roads in both urban and rural areas of the state, Transportation Commissioner Alvin New said.

“It’s unfortunate that inflation is competing with us as we try to do that,” New said.

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