State transportation officials have proposed building 15 miles of elevated freeway lanes on Interstate 35, corridors that would be free for public transit and carpool vehicles but would likely require all other drivers to pay a toll.
The proposed I-35 elevated lanes, called managed lanes, would stretch from Loop 410 South near San Antonio Military Medical Center to FM 1103 in Schertz.
The project could cost "north of $1 billion" to build, although that number is preliminary, said Josh Donat, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation's San Antonio district office.
The proposal is under federal environmental review, so it's unclear when the lanes could be built, but officials hope the studies will be complete and the project environmentally "cleared" by next fall, said Jonathan Bean, TxDOT San Antonio's director of transportation planning and development.
The elevated lanes would run between the existing main lanes and access roads, at a yet-to-be-determined height, Bean said.
All the existing lanes on I-35 would remain free to use — they would not be tolled.
It's possible that a private company could build the project, though that has also not been determined. TxDOT is performing the environmental studies, but the state could partner with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority or a "third party," Bean said, during a presentation Monday at the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization board meeting.
"Right now, we're leaving all options on the table," Bean said.
The public was able to review the proposal at a TxDOT meeting Monday night in Schertz.
TxDOT is holding a second meeting from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday in Windcrest, at the New Christian Fellowship Church gym, 8700 Fourwinds Drive.
The project would, in theory, relieve congestion on I-35, a major commercial corridor for border trade and the Eagle Ford Shale.
Roughly 188,000 vehicles a day traveled I-35 near 410 South in 2012, according to TxDOT traffic counts.
TxDOT officials determined that elevated lanes might be a solution to the congestion on I-35 after completing a planning and environmental study last year. The study recommended two alternatives: Build nothing, which is a benchmark for the federal environmental review, or construct the elevated lanes.
TxDOT is proposing elevated, managed lanes because it would require less right of way than expanding the freeways, Bean said. It also wouldn't affect any existing entrance and exit ramps or driveways.
Managed lanes are designed to allow vehicles to travel at faster speeds through a combination of pricing and vehicle eligibility — in other words, assuming fewer drivers will pay a toll means a certain speed can be maintained.
They also provide a revenue source to fund the project.
There are currently no toll projects in San Antonio, though managed lanes are planned on parts of U.S. 281 and Loop 1604.
Bean said TxDOT has not determined exactly who would have to pay to use the proposed elevated lanes. He used the example of the Alamo RMA's tolling policy, which allows buses, registered carpoolers, and emergency and military vehicles to drive a toll lane for free. All other drivers must pay.
Copyright 2013 - San Antonio Express-News