281 construction to finish in April

New lanes have recently been opened on US highway 281


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The 281 expansion began in March of 2019 and will conclude in April of 2023.

Bethany Mann, News/Feature Editor

Construction on US Highway 281 is set to finish in April, expanding the previous four lane highway into a ten lane freeway.

The expansion was first proposed in 2000, but construction did not begin until March of 2019. 

“Due to funding in 2003, the state updated their plans to use tolls for the new lanes, in order to fund the project,”  Public Involvement Specialist Celeste Quinones said. “This sparked a decade-long (approximately) battle between the state and anti-toll activists. Between 2013 and 2015 new funding measures became available, dropping the toll component of the project. The expansion will now include non-tolled freeway lanes, HOV lanes, and one-way frontage roads.”

Many of these new lanes have recently become operable in the last few months.

Courtesy of Celeste Quinones

“The traffic can expect to see an increase in operations due to the opening of some mainlanes,” Quinones said. “(Texas Department of Transportation) and (the) contractor worked to look for areas that may be available to the public sooner than originally scheduled. We have so far opened the (southbound) mainlanes over Northwind and (northbound) mainlanes over Borgfeld Rd.”

At the end of the northbound freeway, a recently constructed two-way road with a backage road connected to access 281 opened as opposed to a normal entrance ramp.

“This decision was made to accommodate the businesses, and their customers and residents at the north end of the project,” Quinones said. “This allows them to access US 281 North or South bound at the Borgfeld Rd. intersection.”

Bulverde United Methodist Church is one establishment that is affected by the northbound construction.

 “I welcome the two-lane road as it is much safer for our members, guests and staff,” church administrator for BUMC Vicki Harwell said. “However, I’m not crazy about the transition from 281 on to the “backage” road and feel that more TXDOT signage is needed on 281 and Borgfeld to help people navigate this unusual new direction.”

Over the course of the construction process, the team of workers have found themselves in both positive and negative situations.

The COVID-19 pandemic allowed for faster construction of the new highway as less people were driving on the road.

“As difficult as it was for humanity, the reduced traffic became a positive side effect for the expansion of US 281,” Quinones said. “Construction ramped up and lane closures that would otherwise be restricted, were open for negotiation.”

However, due to the geography of the area, the expansion was repeatedly delayed due to the karsts present around the highway.

A karst is a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum, and each one found is required to be evaluated.

“One key area was south of Bulverde Rd.,” Quinones said. “Here we encountered a karst that was large enough to fit the average home. This caused a severe delay in the construction of the Southbound Frontage Road.”

For geography teacher Julian Johnson, the expansion is long overdue, but he finds the construction frustrating.

“There’s so many projects going on at the same time,” he said. “It’s like nothing ever gets finished.”

As this project concludes, TxDOT is already making plans for the future.

“As TxDOT continues to expand the US 281 corridor, the backage road will one day be converted into the Northbound Frontage Road for the next phase,” Quinones said.