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San Antonio’s $43M Broadway project uncertain after Texas Transportation Commission vote to take ownership

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Members of the Texas Transportation Commission and TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams prepare for Thursday's vote in Austin.

The $43 million Broadway project from the 2017 city bond is in jeopardy after the Texas Transportation Commission voted Thursday to retain control over Broadway.

The City of San Antonio says it has been the owner of Broadway since 2014, but the state and TxDOT claim the process was never completed. Commissioners voted to rescind a decision from a previous meeting in 2014 that started the process of taking Broadway out of the state highway system and giving ownership of Broadway to San Antonio.

San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh called the decision a “complete about-face.”

“We’re disappointed in the complete about-face by TxDOT after working with the City and stakeholders for the last six years,” Walsh said. “It’s not clear how the State will accomplish what the voters approved without reducing the current seven lanes of traffic, but we will stay focused on developing a path forward to deliver the project the community expects.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the vote was unnecessary.

“Particularly when we’re considering how closely we worked together with TxDOT on this and so many other projects,” the mayor said.

The project contains a plan for bike lines and would remove two lanes of traffic. Voters approved the project as part of the 2017 bond package. It’s the removal of vehicle lanes that transportation commissioners disagreed with and said would reduce vehicle capacity.

TxDOT’s Gina Gallegos, district engineer for the San Antonio District, said TxDOT has done about $1.3 million worth of maintenance on the roadway since that time and offered an opinion about the impact lane reduction would have.

“The lane reduction would decrease the number of travel lanes for vehicles which is going to cause a significant delay for the traveling public,” she told commissioners.

The decision comes five years after the public vote for the bond. TxDOT itself pledged $5 million to assist with the project.

Before the vote, Transportation Commission Chair Bruce Bugg said the division wasn’t about bike lanes but part of a state commitment to reduce congestion.

“What we’re trying to do is stay consistent with our congestion relief initiatives and not go backwards by reducing capacity,” Bugg said. “This action we’re contemplating has nothing to do with — against bike lanes or whatever — it has to do everything with maintaining capacity.”

Bugg is a San Antonian and is also chair of the Tobin Endowment and Bank of San Antonio. All of the commissioners on the transportation board are appointees of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Bugg was appointed commissioner in 2015 and chair in 2017.

During the meeting, Bugg asked TxDOT attorneys who the owner of Broadway, which is known as State Loop 386 Becky Blewett, Deputy General Counsel, for TxDOT said.

“We did not make any inroads to get the (Attorney General) approval or the governor to sign off on the transfer so we maintained it until the second minute order that required the acceptance of the construction project,” she said.

Several members of the San Antonio community spoke to commissioners against the decision on Thursday. Kari Kuwamura, executive director of ActivateSA said Broadway belongs to San Antonians.

“We need to protect students walking, biking, and taking the bus to classes, we need to protect parents who are taking their stroller from the Doseum to Lion’s Field Park,” she said. “Residents who choose to live in this area choose to live here because they were promised a walkable and bikeable neighborhood.”

In designing the Broadway project the City of San Antonio has spent $17.8 million on lower Broadway and $3 million on upper Broadway.

“All that money expenditure, time effort was spent and precipitated by the order that they have rescinded and pretend it didn’t happen, so that is a good question, what happens to that time and money and effort that was spent, those are some of the answers that we’re going to need to get,” Nirenberg said.

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