SH 211: a Critical Connector Spanning 7.6 Miles and Nearly Four Decades

June 2023

When rural lands transform overnight into bustling suburbs, nearby roadways experience tremendous stress.


We’ve seen this time and time again, and the lessons we’ve learned along the way have allowed us to implement innovative measures to scale up and build out infrastructure to keep up with growth.


State Highway 211 (SH 211) was originally envisioned as a lateral connector in west Bexar County in the 1980s. Landowners donated land for the southern (US 90 to FM 1957) and northern (FM 471 to SH 16) segments of SH 211, which opened in 1990 and 1991, respectively. But the 7.6-mile segment from FM 1957 to FM 471 stalled due to a lack of funding to purchase and secure all of the needed right of way (ROW).


Over the years, the need to complete this project became more acute, with Bexar County’s population nearly doubling from 1990 to 2020 as well as growth in eastern Medina County. Plans to complete SH 211 were revived in 2006 with a Pass-Through Financing agreement between Bexar County and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), as well as an organization of landowners under a Public Improvement District (PID)—a public subdivision of the State—to acquire ROW, provide environmental permitting and secure land for mitigation of endangered cave invertebrates, and to fund design.


Typically, state highway projects are procured by TxDOT and funded through the State Highway Fund. For projects that lack funding or are not a TxDOT priority, Pass-Through Financing was a mechanism by which public or private entities (or, in SH 211’s case, a combination of both) could assume the risk of accelerating a project by advancing the funding for the project themselves. When the highway is complete and transferred to TxDOT ownership, the entity is compensated a portion of the project cost dependent on how many vehicles use the highway annually.


The private group of landowners were instrumental in moving the project forward as they saw the negative impact of the unfinished roadway on connectivity and traffic in the region. In conjunction with these landowners, Pape-Dawson Engineers, as the Engineer of Record, worked with Bexar County and the City of San Antonio to form the Westside 211 PID and to secure the Pass-Through Financing Agreement with TxDOT. The PID, and the landowners of the property within its boundaries, were responsible for design, ROW, and environmental obligations. Pape-Dawson provided design, permitting, ROW acquisition, easement identification, surveying, environmental assessment, and public engagement services and worked to resolve hurdles along the way such as a recession, listing of and creation of critical habitat units (CHU) for endangered species within the corridor, and price escalations that could only be resolved through additional funding mechanisms. Bexar County, responsible for fronting the money to build the project, contracted with Capital Excavation Company to construct the roadway and Foster CM Group to provide construction management services for this connector, decades after initial planning began.


A critical challenge of the SH 211 project was designing the roadway through a residential neighborhood that made frequent use of the undeveloped ROW. Settling on a road design that met resident needs as well as growth demands became a major pinch point in the development of the project. Through face-to-face public meetings and hearings, the Pape-Dawson project team ensured every resident was heard. Design additions that resulted from feedback from the public included 1) woodland buffers around the highway to mitigate traffic noise, and 2) a 10-foot underpass with an accessible sidewalk and lighting to maintain a safe pedestrian connection.


Apart from funding the project and appeasing residents, environmental concerns were also at play. Pape-Dawson’s environmental team directed karst studies to find the least impactful route for SH 211. After studying an expanded corridor, Pape-Dawson adjusted the roadway alignment and profile to weave around CHU for the endangered karst invertebrates, a condition of the project’s US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) permit. It was also decided the highway would not cut into local karst formations, but instead be constructed on earth fill, resulting in the design of an innovative elevated roadside ditch in the most sensitive karst areas.


Additionally, Pape-Dawson negotiated with landowners within the PID to establish a 40-acre preserve to offset the project’s impacts to CH, which resolved USFWS approval concerns at no expense to TxDOT or Bexar County. This preserve is the first of its kind for Bexar County and TxDOT. It not only mitigates environmental impacts, but also contributes toward the recovery potential of listed karst invertebrates.


With SH 211 being a mostly greenfield project, the free movement of wildlife was another key environmental consideration. Pape-Dawson designed a safe wildlife crossing vertically separated from vehicles at Potranca and Medio Creeks.


SH 211 opened to traffic in the Fall of 2022. By then, it was already evident how important this highly anticipated corridor was to relieving congestion in rapidly growing west Bexar County and eastern Medina County. Without the creative solutions and services provided by Bexar County, the Westside 211 PID, and Pape-Dawson, this roadway would have been unrealized, leaving new residents, schools, and businesses with inadequate infrastructure until such time that TxDOT was able to secure the fiscal resources necessary to complete this roadway segment.

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