Proposed Southwest Side Overpass Draws Criticism from Residents

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Both car and pedestrian traffic crosses the railroad tracks at the intersection of Zarzamora Street and Frio City Road.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Vehicles and pedestrians cross the busy railroad tracks at the intersection of South Zarzamora Street and Frio City Road.

A public meeting about a proposed overpass at the intersection of Frio City Road and South Zarzamora Street turned contentious Tuesday night, with several residents shouting at City staff and saying the overpass would disrupt nearby neighborhoods and businesses.

Neighborhood residents have long sought a solution to traffic backups caused by freight trains crossing Zarzamora Street at Frio City Road on the Southwest side. Union Pacific Railroad officials estimate more than 20 freight trains cross that intersection daily.

The voter-approved 2017 municipal bond issue allocates $10 million to a fix. Residents wanted the City to consider an underpass at the spot, and sought more details on how exactly the project would affect homes and businesses immediately around the intersection.

But after considering four options, the City has recommended an overpass with frontage roads, Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) Director Mike Frisbie told a crowd of more than 100 people at Lowell Middle School.

Numerous people at the meeting, feeling that the unpopular overpass idea was being forced upon the neighborhood, got up and left before the meeting ended.

"We might as well leave. They're not telling us anything!" one man yelled.

The Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) is waiting to see whether the project can get additional federal funds. Midnight Wednesday is the deadline for AAMPO to accept public comments on this and several other projects it has submitted for federal funding consideration.

Frisbie said it would cost $27 million and take four years to build an overpass. He added that the overpass would maintain current traffic patterns, reduce wait times, and improve safety for crossing motorists and cyclists, including emergency first responders.

The development of an overpass would result in the acquisition of 16 residential and commercial properties, a smaller impact than other options, according to City staff.

City staff recently had evaluated a South Zarzamora underpass at the railroad crossing, but determined that would be a much bigger undertaking, costing $60 million, taking seven years to build, and impacting 42 residential and business properties.

Frisbie said the project would also necessitate construction of a temporary bypass railroad, a new railroad bridge, and relocation of utilities. An underpass would be susceptible to flooding in a major rain storm, he added.

Because the intersection of South Zaramora and Frio City Road forms an oblique angle, Union Pacific railroad would not approve an underpass, Frisbie said.

"What Union Pacific is looking for, for safety reasons, is a crossing at a roughly 90-degree angle," Frisbie said. "The reason for that is if you have someone driving [on Zarzamora] lose control, at this angle, they're going to hit the bridge or the railroad tracks overhead.

"The railroad will not approve an underpass that is not close to 90 degrees."

Many residents at the meeting were angry, saying they felt City staffers were not listening to their concerns, and that the City was not more forthcoming about specific properties that would be acquired for any bypass.

More residents said an overpass would be intrusive and ugly, that it would reduce access to other area businesses, and that it could still cause traffic backups on Frio City Road.

Neighbors are particularly worried about the fate of established, family-owned businesses in the area, such as Oscar's Taco House, Ozuna's Automotive, Durangos Restaurant, and Nogalitos Gear, all of which have barely survived local economic crises such as the closure of nearby Kelly Air Force Base.

Residents concerned about the possibility of an overpass have gathered more than 500 signatures on a petition opposing that option.

Frisbie said that the City would talk with each affected individual property owner as the design phase – expected to start in April – unfolds. He added that every property owner will be offered fair market value.

That pledge was not enough to satisfy the audience.

"Businesses are going to be impacted," resident Anabelle Valle said. "They are very concerned and they need to know what's going on."

Resident Maria Velazquez said local history provides examples of overpasses adversely affecting neighboring businesses, even if commercial property owners were given options and assistance with relocation.

"It makes a big differences to businesses if you're not projecting their profit loss in the future, what they are losing in the future," she said.

Joe Gallegos is one of several residents working to rally the neighborhood in scrutinizing the project.

"Part of the problem, with all due respect, is the lack of trust on the part of the residents toward City staff mainly because throughout these efforts, you've been identifying it as an overpass project," Gallegos said, leading residents to believe other options weren't being considered.

Fernando Velazquez, another organizer for community members concerned about the project, said that residents have waited long enough for a solution to the traffic tie-ups and want the fix to be done right.

Velazquez also said he was puzzled how the City could accept an overpass when it has been pushing for beautification and equity in older parts of the inner city. He also said he felt the City misled the community into thinking residents had an official say in what option was selected.

"A bridge does not beautify it, and if you're going to submit only one project to the [AAMPO], then come out here and [tell] us that both projects were submitted and that the community actually has an option ... we don't," he said.

Frisbie called the overpass the more feasible option: "We can't go out for $60 million, but we can do a good project, a beautiful project, for $27 million."

5 thoughts on “Proposed Southwest Side Overpass Draws Criticism from Residents

  1. Don’t believe tjeir hype, CIMS internal docs say the underpass would be $36-38M…its horrible that city employees fear retaliation if they even send me a pic of this info since only a handful have internal access. When confronted about this number back in November Frisbee and McBeth were stunned and stayed silent. Then relentlessly kept asking me where I obtained that info.

    Also at the November public meeting, McBeth told the community that the underpass option would cost $40-45M, now they inflated the number. I have the meeting recorded so I will upload that to YouTube later today. Their numbers keep changing. The fact that they keep telling the community we have two options, yet only submitted one to the MPO should be the red flag that Pape-Dawson wins again.

    • I agree. I was not at this meeting but have been to the two prior and the number keeps going up. I undoubtedly know they initially told us the overpass would cost $30-$35,000. To see that they are now saying $60,000 is absurd. It’s hard to trust people who don’t live in this community and who’s story keeps changing.

  2. Let us hope these concerned residents went on-line and voiced their opposition AAMPO Transportation Improvement Plan ( matching federal funds ) that is rating projects for future federal dollars. I do not live in this area; seems to me powers that be are pushing this agenda ( See, I am improving our long neglected side of town!) Myself, they need to just let it be, Railroads have been here well before neighborhoods.

  3. traffic congestion should be a price that autos pay for driving – that said, the city needs better transit to provide other options for san antonio residents.
    If the community is so opposed to an overpass (which I also think it’s ridiculous to spend that amount of money on car traffic issues that don’t really resolve car traffic long term) then use the bond funds and state funds for more sidewalks or bike infrastructure in inner city neighborhoods! forget the overpass altogether.

  4. I’m disappointed that the reporting does not indicate or map the negative impact the proposed overpass of Zarzamora near Frio will have on residents THROUGHOUT downtown San Antonio. The two Union Pacific freight rail lines crossing Zarzamora at Frio wind through greater downtown San Antonio, with rail movements on these lines impacting residents and street level rail crossings throughout Districts 1, 3, and 5 and parts of 7.

    The proposed overpass serves Union Pacific desires to increase freight rail movements in the heart of San Antonio from roughly 20 a day (and dropping since 2012) to 100+ a day on these two center city lines. This is not in the public interest and works against Mayor Nirenberg’s efforts to improve public transit in the city, support inner city reinvestment and stop the game of ‘Russian Roulette’ posed by hazardous freight rail movements and freight rail idling in densely populated areas of San Antonio.

    The strong and longstanding local opposition to this project (since it was first floated in the news in 2012) is about the 17+ legacy businesses that would be wiped out by the 4+ year project (which would require the construction of a rail bypass) and the City’s questionable management of the project — making a mockery of public consultation processes and steering sizeable public dollars to an effort that ultimately serves Union Pacific interests and undermines various other municipal and County aims and duties, including related to mitigating serious public health risks and enhancing and improving San Antonio’s walkable urban design with 2040 planning.

    The opposition is beyond the immediate negative impact of the project. It is another rejection of “1950s design” and thinking that has damaged San Antonio’s urban form and isolated and segregated neighborhoods within the 410 loop (see the rail overpasses at Commerce and Buena Vista downtown near UTSA and the negative impacts at street level). It is also a rejection of a weak Council.

    The Mayor might be able to bench press 300+ but his stance in relation to this projects lacks any strength. Likewise, the inattentiveness of the Council members representing districts 1,3,5 and 7 and their silence in regards to this project is in some cases is surprising but a reminder that the 729,000 San Antonians who live within the 410 loop (half of the city’s population) deserve better.

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