Larson about signal "tweaking" on 281: "They want people to get their fill of frustration out there"

Read about it here.

Here’s the story on the signal re-timing that occurred on US 281 shortly after the lawsuit victory…

As tolls bog down, so does U.S. 281

Web Posted: 02/10/2006 12:00 AM CST

Patrick Driscoll
Express-News Staff Writer

A curious thing happened after the Texas Department of Transportation, facing a lawsuit, backed off plans to start construction on U.S. 281 toll lanes last month.

Within days, traffic got a lot worse.

Cars backed up for more than a mile at stoplights, and motorists spent almost twice as much time stuck in rush-hour traffic.

“It was always horrible,” said Joe Dunn, who commutes daily on U.S. 281. “This was a whole lot worse than it had ever been.”

Then came accusations that officials had re-timed the traffic signals, giving them less green time, to ratchet up the pain and make the prospect of toll roads look better.

“It seems to me that TxDOT, with the city’s acquiescence, has been playing politics with our highway system,” said Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party, a group critical of toll-road plans.

Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson, who lives near U.S. 281, said he noticed the slower traffic, too.

“There was definitely a change and it was noticeable to a lot of people who travel the corridor,” he said.

At a recent meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization board, which Larson sits on, he asked the city to explain what happened to signal lights at Stone Oak Parkway, Encino Rio and Evans Road.

City Transportation Engineer Christina De La Cruz said that “they had been tweaking it.”

Later, she said crews had replaced a faulty detector in the signal at Stone Oak Parkway and had checked the other two lights. She also said TxDOT recently provided new traffic counts for U.S. 281 and that the city might use the data to re-time the lights.

But the city hasn’t changed the timing of any U.S. 281 lights yet, De La Cruz said. And the foul-up of the detector soon after TxDOT postponed work on the toll lanes was a coincidence.

“There has never been a coordinated effort to create problems out there,” she said.

Larson said he’s still not clear on what happened. But he did accuse officials of holding back on some quick, cheap fixes to improve traffic flows on U.S. 281, such as retiming lights to move more cars during rush hour and building turn lanes at intersections.

“If they’re committed to the toll-road concept they’re not going to improve those routes at all,” he said. “They want people to get their fill of frustration out there.”

Since 2000, TxDOT has installed traffic signals at Stone Oak Parkway, Bulverde and Borgfeld roads and has restriped shoulders to create additional lanes from Stone Oak Parkway to Redland, agency spokeswoman Laura Lopez said.

The real problem, she said, is that there’s just too much traffic out there.

“No matter how badly you want it to happen, you just can’t fit that amount of traffic through the existing infrastructure,” she said. “It seems that the funnel is about as big as it can get without some major reconstruction.”