Hausman Road: The High Cost of Sprawl in San Antonio

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Construction along Hausman Road stretches a long distance. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Construction work along a 3-4-mile stretch of Hausman Road in March 2016.

Editor's note: This article is part of a continuing series of reports and commentaries the Rivard Report is publishing on the 2017-2022 City Bond. Interested contributors can send proposed submissions or story ideas to rivard@rivardreport.com. For other stories in the series, please see below.

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To understand the funding dilemma that city officials face as they manage an ever-sprawling San Antonio at the expense of investing in the urban core, look no farther than the Hausman Road Project in the 2012-2017 bond. The project, which is nearing completion, is the most expensive street improvement project in city history, costing a total of $75,189,555. Yet many in San Antonio would be hard pressed to identify the road's exact location.

The single 3.4-mile stretch of roadway between Loop 1604 and I-10 West was budgeted in the 2012-2017 city bond at $43.5 million, including $30 million for street improvements and $13.5 million for flood control and drainage work. Because the project involved major utility relocations, a connection to the Leon Creek Greenway and an extension of the hike and bike path, additional money came from Bexar County, SAWS, CPS Energy, AT&T, and the City's Linear Creekway Park Trails Program and Proposition Two fund.

Add it all up and the cost is $75.1 million, or $22.1 million a mile.

For the suburbs, the project embodies a more forward-thinking and environmentally sensitive approach to such major infrastructure projects. Amid some of the city's worst traffic congestion, cyclists and pedestrians can now travel on the Leon Creek Greenway, with an added new connection on Hausman Road, from UTSA to O.P. Schnabel Park without touching a city street. New bridgework over five creeks on Hausman Road eliminates four low-water crossings and takes 77 properties out of the floodplain. Runoff will be channeled into grassy medians for filtration before entering city sewers. The Leon Creek Bridge will have a public art element.

No one who has experienced the traffic congestion or periodic flooding of the roadway along this stretch of Hausman Road would doubt the need for the project. The existing roadway was sorely inadequate as it developed into a major byway for traffic coming from Loop 1604 to I-10 East and from I-10 West to Loop 1604 West, a shortcut for drivers avoiding the Loop 1604/I-10 interchange Add to that traffic the comings and goings of area residents, UTSA campus-bound traffic, and people heading northwest to Helotes or across I-10 to Shavano Park.

City officials consider Hausman Road a model design/build project coordinated with the Texas Department of Transportation, CPS Energy, SAWS and AT&T. This chart shows the breakdown of the over $75 million costs.

The 3.4-mile Hausman Road Project cost more than $75 million. Graphic by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

The Hausman Road Project is in Councilman Ron Nirenberg's District 8, and while its near-completion promises substantial traffic relief and flood control, no one expects that public investment to generate significant economic development. It's sprawl relief, a costly fix to a traffic problem caused by unplanned growth. The result is that taxpayers across the city are paying the bill for upgrades needed in the aftermath of continuing suburban sprawl. The only alternative in such locations is to live with gridlock, especially in the absence of multimodal transit options to reduce vehicle congestion.

The same 2012 bond allocated $30 million for improvements in the Loop 1604/U.S. 281 interchange. The two projects taken together account for more than 12% of the entire bond.

"It's a clear example of the tension between the inevitable costs of unplanned-for growth and our need as a city to be more sustainable," Nirenberg said. "The reality is I could find four roadways in District 8 of similar size and need that need to be put on the bond, but there simply isn't the money in the city, much less this district, to address all these needs. We need to stop doing what we are doing, or we are going to be faced with endless demands for expensive projects like Hausman Road."

Nirenberg chairs the SA Tomorrow initiative, Mayor Ivy Taylor's effort to bring a greater degree of planning and management to city growth with San Antonio's population expected to grow by more than one million more people over the next 25 years. SA Tomorrow will actually be three reports: a Comprehensive Plan, a Sustainability Plan and a Multimodal Transportation Plan.

Draft reports will be completed by late April, and a final report will come before City Council in June. The big question is whether the findings and recommendations will be adopted and change the current growth model by addressing land use issues and inadequate municipal policies. That inevitably would shift more of the infrastructure costs over to developers and, ultimately, to those buying houses and undertaking commercial developments in the fast-growing suburbs. Alternative transportation and sustainability solutions to address sprawl and its impact on the environment also will be major components of the SA Tomorrow plan. Those options, too, will come with steep price tags, and perhaps, even steeper costs if nothing is done to change the status quo.

Acting on the SA Tomorrow report will not be easy or inexpensive, and it remains to be seen whether the political will exists at City Hall to impose new development regulations that better align private sector activity and public infrastructure costs. Without significant changes, San Antonio will continue on its current path of unchecked sprawl, with one early estimate predicting that the city limits will expand from 500 to 1,000 square miles by 2040.

The sprawl has a direct impact on public investment in the core city, especially the inner city, where the needs are the greatest and where the cost of infill development is less expensive for taxpayers than the cost of greenfield development in the increasingly distant reaches of Bexar County.

"The public sector shouldn't control the market, but the public sector should play an important part in setting the guidelines," Nirenberg said. "The SA Tomorrow report should be required reading for the citizens appointed to the bond committees, and it should serve as a guide for the 2017 bond. Ultimately, the decisions will be political. We have the opportunity in San Antonio to start shaping our growth, or we can let the plan die on the shelf. The choice is ours."

A sign displaying the amount of road work that spans Hausman Road at the intersection of Jetlyn Drive. Photo by Scott Ball.

A sign displaying the amount of road work that spans Hausman Road at the intersection of Jetlyn Drive. Photo by Scott Ball.

Street projects in the outlying suburbs are not the only projects being funded. To be fair, the 2012 bond also included $40 million for downtown street improvements, and an additional $15 million for the restoration of Water and Nueva streets inside Hemisfair that were eliminated during the original construction of HemisFair '68. Hemisfair received an additional $15 million for other park improvements. Other major street improvement projects funded in the 2012 bond were undertaken on the City's Eastside, Westside and Southside.

The annexation debate coming to a head at City Hall adds to the competition for bond dollars. The next bond cycle is 2017-2022. City staff and stakeholders are starting to focus now on which projects will be funded. Bond funding expands with every new cycle as the city's tax revenues and ability to service debt grow.

The 2007-2012 bond was $550 million, the 2012-2017 bond was $596 million, and the 2017-2022 bond was initially projected at $700 million. There is a continuing discussion and debate inside City Hall and among various stakeholders about the "right size" of the 2017-2022 bond. Some in San Antonio are eager to see the bond reach as high as $1 billion to assure more urban core projects get funded.

Those stakeholders privately argue that City officials should be willing to risk San Antonio's AAA bond rating to boost the size and scope of the 2017 bond, a move that would meet serious resistance from City Manager Sheryl Sculley, whose fiscal management over the last decade has made San Antonio the only city with a population of one million people or more with the highest possible municipal bond rating. Proponents of a $1 billion bond argue that a slight downgrade in the bond rating would not be significant given the low-cost of borrowing money, while additional public investment would lead to accelerated private sector investment.

By tradition, few citizens in San Antonio participate in the bond process, despite its importance. The public will be asked to approve the 2017 bond in the May 2017 City Election, but voter turnout is low for local elections and the list of projects to be funded will be set long before then. Citizens interested in advocating for specific bond projects in the city or their neighborhoods need to participate in the process now.

The Build Your Own Broadway ideas competition and March 30 evening event at the Pearl Stable is the latest Place Changing event jointly undertaken by the Rivard Report, Overland Partners, and the Pearl to promote such civic engagement. Centro San Antonio is sponsoring the ideas competition, which is open to everyone, with a March 23 submission deadline. 

An article published Sunday on the Rivard Report focused on efforts to win bond funding for the redesign of Broadway from Hildebrand Avenue to East Houston Street, a 3.2-mile stretch that many property owners, neighborhood associations, developers and cultural leaders along the street believe will generate a substantial return on investment in the way of new development and business activity. Such projects are in direct competition for scarce street, bridge and sidewalk dollars in each bond cycle. No one has put a price tag yet on the redesign of this stretch of Broadway, but a group lead by Centro is studying the project and is expected to issue a report in the near future.

Traditionally, streets, bridges and sidewalks represent 55% or more of total bond spending –$337.44 million of the $596 million in the 2012-2017 Bond, and $307 million of the $550 million in the 2007-2012 Bond. Assuming the 2017 bond will total $800 million, that would make $440 million available in the next five-year cycle. That sounds like a lot of money, but it's a small sum when one considers citywide needs for street, sidewalk and bridge work.

The City's own figures show an accumulated $1.4 billion shortfall in street construction and maintenance and an accumulated $1.1. billion shortfall in sidewalk construction and maintenance. Officials with the City's Transportation and Capital Improvements say there are more than 32 miles of urban streets without sidewalks. Poorly maintained sidewalks on some inner city neighborhoods streets cause pedestrians to walk instead in the streets.

 

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

 

Top image: Construction work along the 3.4-mile stretch of Hausman Road is still underway.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

Related Stories:

Broadway: A Street Still aWaiting Public Investment

 BYOBroadway: An Open Competition to Design a Great Street

Dignowity Hill: A Neighborhood With a Story

Urban, Linear Park Proposed for Alamo Heights’ Broadway Corridor

36 thoughts on “Hausman Road: The High Cost of Sprawl in San Antonio

  1. Many people living in the burbs didn’t want streetcar (at a cost of $30 to $40 million to the city) because “they would never use it”. Well, those of us living near the urban center shouldn’t have to pay for these much more expensive suburban sprawl roadways that we will rarely if ever use.

    Let those residents drive on old single lane roads unless the individual communities out there pay for the construction and maintenance of their sprawl roads. There should be a vote by all citizens before these roads are funded.

    • That’s a bad argument because by your logic we should have all voted for the billions in highways that service downtown or any major street improvements to the downtown infrastructure. Don’t forget Downtown has been getting the lion’s share of public money over the last few years with the revitalization of hemisphere.

      The real problem is what Robert touched on. The lack of planning. In my opinion, they should never have given the OK to the developers of the numerous neighborhoods and apartments that line the road without having the developers contribute to the cost of expanding the infrastructure to support it.

      • It is very interesting that roads and highways are expanded on with little to no fanfare. On the other hand, each district is entitled to spend their share of the bond money as they want to. It would be great to see an investment in alternative transit option in the 2017 bond, otherwise the endless cycle of sprawling road projects will continue to get worse. I probably would have ridden the street car but it’s an expensive solution. Actual BRT could have been implemented at a much lower cost and could be even more effective solution for our current problems.

        To Mike, first of all, Hemisfair keeps track of who visits the park, a very large share comes from people outside of the urban core, it really is an asset for the entire city. The same could be said for multiple parks across the city. We need more investment in green space all over San Antonio, Texas and the US. Hemisfair and downtown are getting money from multiple sources, including bond money, multiple TIRZ, and the taxes collected from hotels (this generates a TON of money).

        As for the “investment” in highways, they absolutely ruined the inner city. Destroying neighborhoods across the US that are finally coming back after decades of neglect. The truth is that it was really was an investment in the suburbs to allow middle and upper-middle class people to escape from the inner-city.

  2. Having attended many of the Hausman Rd planning meetings, I remember the original rationale of the project. It was built to eliminate flooding, a chronic problem on Hausman Rd. and to connect UTSA to its planned multimillion $$ sports facilities on Hausman Rd.

  3. All this talk about the urban core and the need to focus more $’s on it sounds really cute….Hausman Road is an easy candidate to pick on as it was certainly expensive …but it also serves as one of the main arteries for UTSA.

    UTSA and our other educational institutions will play a more important role in SA’s future than anything else.

    Why do I think that? Because if you want to be really honest about it our median income sucks and the jobs we have to offer on average as a city pale in comparison to our neighbors up I-35.

    The reality is our city is not as educated as our immediate competition (Austin). The volume of talent coming out of both is no comparison.

    This should matter to everyone BC for the urban core to be revitalized we have to have people with jobs that can afford it. The reality is that redevelopment of infill property is expensive. COSA can throw some incentives out there but these are pennies on the $.

    So if all you care about is the urban core
    you should care about UTSA and the other educational institutions. A thoroughfare at UTSA’s front door is a good thing in the bigger picture, even for the urban core……if you want to talk about lack of “ROI” with bond $ let’s talk about the proposed land bridge for the deer to cross the street.

  4. This sprawl is driven by one issue: schools. SA needs to do whatever it takes to fix its horrible schools. If you can’t afford to buy into SA’s decent public school districts or afford private schools, then the only chance at avoiding SA’s horrible public schools is to move as far away as possible. (They used to create new school districts to solve this problem, but that’s “unconstitutional.”) If you didn’t have to move as far to get a decent school, the Alamo Ranches of the world would never happen.

    I would just wait 20 to 30 years. All the riff-raff will have moved out to the suburbs to get to the “good” schools. Those schools will then become terrible, and this will be just as that slapped-together housing stock up there is starting to crumble. Then, all the decent folks can move back to the city center and take advantage of the early- and mid-20th century’s fantastic city layout, interesting housing stock, and organically-created urban core, and the riff-raff will be stranded in the suburbs—which aren’t connected to the city center by mass transit. Voila! No bonds needed. Problem solved.

  5. If you ask the question, what else could you do with $75m? it puts it all in perspective. Continuing down this path is just not sustainable. Especially when you consider the continued annexation of land.

  6. If only a state or city had tried to limit sprawl so we would all known if that had worked. Oh, what about Los Angeles, CA you say? Where they have put serious limitations on development and heavy taxes on development? Why yes that would be a good example to see outrageous home prices, no growth, no jobs and no middle class. People are moving out of CA to SA to escape and live a good life! Thank the good Lord we have growth and people want to move here. It is a blessing people in the Midwest would love.

  7. Used this as a main route to Northwest Vista College circa 2004-2008, but the sprawl became too unbearable and 1604 traffic was/is a nightmare. There’s perhaps no greater waste of resources than highway and road construction projects without alternative transportation options.

  8. It’s sad that a “Band-Aid” or reactive solution like this cost the taxpayers so much when this will only be a temporary solution to the greater issue of sprawl. Bob, as always, thank you for starting and keeping these conversations going with your reporting.

    While I know most in San Antonio will get out their pitchforks for this comment–I think toll roads would be a viable “Band Aid” to this kind of problem. By way of example, because I know it’s too late for this project, if people want to bypass the highway intersection, they will have to pay to take Hausman. Residents can get a pass, but commuters will need to pay to use the road–this will help pay back the cost of this construction and discourage some commuters from taking the road. San Antonio’s anti-toll mentality is so strange to me. If we are spending 12% of our bond money on road projects the majority of us will never use, having an element of toll to pay for these improvements seems logical to me. Hell, I would be fine paying a toll to drive down Broadway if it meant the city could raise enough money to do something special there.

    • I wish we would get serious about tolls in San Antonio. They are more than a band-aid, they’re a great solution (as long as you charge people to pay for the cost and upkeep). I especially liked what they were planning for I-10 and 281, keep an equivalent portion to what exists today free and then have congestion based pricing for the new portion. If people want expanded roads, make them pay for it. Given the backlog of projects for streets and sidewalks the funding sources are completely inadequate so don’t tell me we’re double taxing you. You’ve been given streets at 90% off, we’re just saying that you need to directly pay for a bigger portion now.

      • Couldn’t agree more. Our local politicians love to talk about how they’ve kept San Antonio “toll free” as if it’s a good thing, when it’s encouraging further sprawl to the detriment of the urban core. Our current model where the city fronts the bill for all infrastructure developments is unsustainable without continued annexation to offset near term losses, which is similar to a Ponzi scheme to me… The expansion and growth are artificial, while the urban core languishes. Let’s do what’s in the best interest of the city today and in the future and stop pushing it off to the next guy to solve!

      • I wholeheartedly agree that we should have tolls. I think all new residents causing the congestion should pay for them. Who’s with me on this? In fact, I think all recent residents since year 2011 should pay for these new tolls. What do you think?

  9. And here we remain in
    The Northwest side
    Which is basically just
    An extension of the
    West side with crummy streets & sidewalks surrounded
    By half a dozen schools and we get no
    Response by the
    Powers that be…….
    Who is in charge here
    ⁉️⁉️⁉️⁉️⁉️⁉️⁉️⁉️

  10. I would rather San Antonio/Bexar invest in downtown/urban core infrastructure where you actually get real value from multimodal and complete streets. Those that want to escape the urban core can have their sprawl and their cars, because very little of it is going to actually be used by pedestrians and cyclists. That’s the choice they have made.

  11. Don’t over- think the Sprawl issue. Sprawl follows jobs creation. During the past 40 years San Antonio city and county politicians have been relentless in pouring billions of dollars into subsidizing job creation away from downtown. How do you think UTSA ,with all its jobs, got built out in the middle of thousands of then vacant land when 1968 Hemisfair was over and city owned downtown land sat vacant? When city leaders cease subsidizing job creation along 1604 and beyond sprawl will diminish. No amount of light rail or any intermodal planing can ever overcome 40 years of intentional job sprawl.

  12. It appears that the 2017 bond will be $750 million, or more, and District 9 may receive 10% of this total bond money for district infrastructure improvement projects. One of these 2017 projects being discussed is construction of a multi-use senior center in District 9. Gene Dawson of Pape-Dawson Engineering and Councilman have been in discussions with the Steubing Ranch owners about purchasing this 292+ acre property for a city park. This purchase would avoid building 3500 homes on this property and crowding local streets with 6000 or more vehicles. This proposed large park would have several large “free” soccer fields, baseball fields and other amenities to serve residents in this fastest growing city council district. The city has now negotiated a $10 million purchase price for this property which might also include improvements to local roads such as Hardy Oak.

  13. The other day I was on wurzbach rd and it took me almost 16 minutes to just get from lock hill Selma to n w military the congestion is horrible there. They need to build an underground tunnel like they did on Fred rd and medical to relieve the bottle neck of traffic. Also, 1604/10 needs a better interchange. Not an effective and efficient system as it is now.

    • Yes, by all means let’s ignore the myriad possibilities of mass transit and spend every last cent possible on more roadway projects we can’t afford to maintain!

      “Ponzi scheme” is right.

  14. All the urban core talk is pointless without jobs. We have to have jobs that are located in the urban core and provide wages to live in the urban core…..this is fundamental.

    ….and when it’s all said and done and even if we are as successful as we could possibly be in the redevelopment of the urban core it will be at best a small percentage in San Antonio’s anticipated population growth.

    People need to get off the notion that “sprawl” is such a bad word. It is a reality and one that we should be thankful we have to deal with….it means we are growing. We are creating. We are innovating. ….these are good problems to have.

    So to all you urban core fanatics why don’t you stop complaining about road improvements that thousands of people will benefit from every single day and start complaining about ridiculous purchases from your esteemed City Council like the Toyota Soccer Complex in the worst location you could possibly imagine….but we want to be prepared for an MLS team…….except the stadium can’t seat and MLS team!….

    It’s pretty frightening to see what people spend money on when it’s not their own…..

    • Tomas,

      I doubt I’m any more of an “urban core fanatic” than you are a fanatic in support of unmitigated sprawl. Still, a city needs its core far more than its appendages, so I think my position is tenable.

      Will San Antonio’s “urban core…be at best a small percentage in San Antonio’s anticipated population growth”? Most certainly. Yet, it will also remain vital to the city’s health and future progress, an integral part of the city’s public image, the primary destination for the vast majority of tourists, and the single area where most of our public facilities are located.

      Reality is not synonymous with inevitability. Unrestrained growth leads to obesity. It’s possible to create garbage. Sprawl is not innovative.

      In fact, “sprawl” is not only a bad word, it’s a bad public policy.

      It’s also something that will eventually overwhelm San Antonio.

      Garl Boyd Latham

  15. When I first moved to SATX ten years ago, my bicycle club used to ride Houseman Road regularly. Then the sprawl gradually took over.

    Sad that the city spent so much money and appears to have neglected the federal and state guidelines for pedestrian and bicycle accommodation. Your photo shows what seems to be yet another soulless four lane road with a suicide lane for turns. Couldn’t the utilities have been buried? Instead we’ve spent a young fortune lining what used to be a charming country road with a forest of telephone poles.

    What’s going to happen in a year or two when the sprawl that’s already happening west of Helotes overwhelms this new thoroughfare? Will the city spend more of our bond money in District 8 to mow down those lovely telephone poles to add a few more lanes for cars?

    It would be great to see some leadership and vision from public officials like Nirenberger and Taylor. Please…

    • Zatoichi,

      Do you honestly expect “leadership and vision” – especially in the realm of transportation – from someone like Mayor Taylor?!

      Please.

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