San Antonio Express-News (TX)
A Section Page 01A
TxDOT says 1604 is ready for toll lanes
Publication Date : June 26, 2007
After more than a year of study, state officials have decided that adding toll lanes to Loop 1604 on the North Side will not significantly harm the environment, the economy or society.
But the Texas Department of Transportation is likely to hit a firestorm of disagreement at a public hearing starting at 7 p.m. today at the Alzafar Shrine Temple at 901 N. Loop 1604 West.

TxDOT has proposed adding six toll lanes to Loop 1604 from Texas 151 to Bandera Road and four lanes from Bandera Road to Interstate 10 near Randolph AFB. Also, toll ramps would be added to improve links to Texas 151, Interstate 10, U.S. 281 and Interstate 35.

With traffic expected to double on Loop 1604 by 2035, the toll lanes would give motorists a choice of paying their way out of congestion or suffering longer commutes. Past studies suggest rates starting at 14 to 16 cents a mile on the lanes and 50 cents on the ramps.

"We need to get these projects opened," TxDOT engineer Clay Smith said. "People sit out on 1604 today for many hours."

But paying tolls will have huge economic and social impacts, says Dave Ramos of the San Antonio Toll Party. A commuter could pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a year just to avoid drowning in traffic, which flies in the face of TxDOT's finding of no significant impact.

"Such a finding seems to be incredible," he said. "It certainly lacks credibility."

But that's the finding TxDOT will ask the Federal Highway Administration to sign off on to avoid a more detailed impact study that could take another two to three years.

Impacts noted in the environmental assessment include:

--Taking 136 acres of land, 10 businesses and three houses.

--Paving 247 acres of recharge areas of the Edwards Aquifer.

--Changes to 11 wetlands totaling half an acre.

Officials with the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance said they have a problem with a 36-mile tollway running through the aquifer's recharge and contributing zones.

"That's a lot," director Annalisa Peace said. "That's the problem: It goes right through the middle of the recharge zone."

But plans to build tens of thousands of houses on the North Side are already under way--enough in the Northwest quadrant to move in the city of Corpus Christi--and traffic will follow, toll advocates say.

"To expect Loop 1604 to carry that kind of traffic is not realistic," said Vic Boyer, director of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition, a government and industry group. "We feel it's time to move forward."