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Broadway beef: City of San Antonio and TxDOT at odds over who owns lower Broadway

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Courtesy Centro San Antonio http://bit.ly/2nJ9ODq
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A 2.2-mile section of Broadway in San Antonio is under sudden dispute.

The City of San Antonio says Broadway, a portion of which is part of the state highway system, was transferred to the city by the state in 2014, but the state and the Texas Department of Transportation now claim that transfer was never completed. On Thursday, the Texas Transportation Commission may vote to rescind a previous decision that started the transfer process almost a decade ago.

The segment of Broadway in question starts at I-35 and goes to Burr Road where the City of Alamo Heights’ boundaries begin. Most of Broadway that’s part of the state highway system north of Burr Road is also known as State Loop 368.

Broadway has many businesses and restaurants alongside its path. It’s the road some drivers take to get to the city’s center from the north.

In a tweet Tuesday night, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg expressed confusion.

“We think it’s wholly inappropriate, it’s in my view unethical, and I question whether or not it’s legal,” Nirenberg said by phone.

Assistant City Manager Jeff Coyle said the city gained ownership and the responsibility of that portion of Broadway after a turnback program in 2014 where the state wanted to relinquish some of its highways to cities.

"The state wanted the City of San Antonio to take over control of Broadway, to take over all the maintenance, expenses, and we did that in good faith,” Coyle said.

At first, the city rejected the turnback proposal of taking control of more than 120 miles of roadway for multiple major streets. But ultimately, the city accepted the responsibility of maintenance of Broadway and several other streets in a city council vote.

Fast forward three years after that council vote, San Antonio voters approved the 2017 bond package, which contained $43 million for a complete streets project for much of Broadway. The project contains bike lanes and reduces some of the vehicle lanes of Broadway.

“It is a complete shock to all of us that at this stage in the game the state is telling us now that they don’t like the project and are threatening to take the road back,” Coyle said.

That project is what appears to be motiving the decision of the Texas Transportation Commission. The commission, which holds oversight over TxDOT and state highways, has on its agenda this Thursday an order to rescind the minute orders from 2014 that started the process.

Bob Kaufman, chief communications officer for TxDOT issued a statement saying the action by the commission would rescind prior minute orders that considered a future transfer of the SL 368 to the City of San Antonio.

“This action is needed as a result of local proposals to convert the existing three lanes to two lanes in each direction and remove turn lanes along SL 368. These local proposals would result in a significant increase in congestion,” the statement said.

Nan Tolson, a spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott said the governor’s priority is to reduce congestion on the state highway system.

“A recent local proposal to remove travel lanes along SL 368, which has been and continues to be on the state highway system, would run counter to that goal,” Tolson said. “The governor supports TxDOT’s efforts to ensure mobility and maintain capacity along this roadway while developing solutions that meet the needs of the local community.”

Coyle said TxDOT had approved the plans in 2016.

“TxDOT has been a party to it all along and has signed off on the plans every step of the way and here we are nearly five years after the voters approved this and the state is stepping in and threatening to take control of Broadway and bring the project to a halt,” Coyle said on Tuesday.

City and TxDOT leaders sent letters to each other about the upcoming decision. City Manager Erik Walsh asked for the commission to table the vote and included a letter signed by TxDOT officials in 2016 that seemed to greenlight the Broadway project.

“The City has been working with TxDOT on the implementation of this project for the past six years. Consequently, it is imperative that the City be given the opportunity to present TxDOT staff with all the relevant information on the Broadway Avenue project prior to any action by the commission,” Walsh said in a letter dated Monday.

In a reply on Thursday, TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams said that a project acceptance letter that would have completed the transfer of Broadway to the city of San Antonio did not occur, meaning the state still maintained control of the roadway.

“No project acceptance letter has been issued that would trigger the removal of the roadway from the State’s highway system …” Williams said.

Williams added the city has not completed environmental clearance on the project and the project has yet to begin construction. He said Broadway remains a state highway adding an accusation the city was misleading the public by saying the city was the owner of Broadway.

Parts of the Broadway reconstruction project have begun south of I-35 which has always been controlled by the City.

The commission’s meeting will take place Thursday morning at 10 a.m.

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