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Author Topic: Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35  (Read 2293 times)

J N Winkler

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Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35
« on: October 10, 2016, 03:32:00 PM »

I am planning a trip between Wichita and San Antonio in the relatively near future, and want to ask about alternatives to I-35, which appears to operate at a very bad level of service all the way from Dallas/Fort Worth south to San Antonio.  Here are the results of a Google Maps itinerary comparison I did just now:

*  I-35 almost all the way--9 hours 2 minutes (8 hours 45 minutes without traffic), tolls, 624 miles, lots of orange exclamation marks in Austin and on either side of it

*  I-35/I-820/Chisholm Trail Parkway/US 281--9 hours 34 minutes (9 hours 13 minutes without traffic), tolls, 624 miles

*  I-35/I-820/US 377/US 281--9 hours 50 minutes (9 hours 25 minutes without traffic), no tolls, 631 miles

This comparison suggests that I should take I-35 anyway because it offers the shortest travel time and distance overall, with or without traffic-related delays.  However, I do not have a transponder with interoperability in Texas and I have no real interest in paying cash tolls (30c/mile seems to be the norm, versus about 5c/mile in Kansas) or dealing with pay-by-mail.  I am also a cost-conscious leisure traveller, so I don't mind spending slightly more time on a less direct route as long as I can limit rural driving to daylight only during deer migration season.  (I would be attempting to make the entire drive from Wichita to San Antonio in one day.  There is currently about 11 1/2 hours between sunrise and sunset at this time of year, and I think this would be down to about 11 hours by the time I was ready to go.)

I'm asking for comment on the US 281 itinerary specifically because I want to get an idea of problems or annoyances that aren't evident through this superficial Google Maps exploration.  StreetView sampling suggests it is a pretty scenic route, but goes straight through towns.  I have driven off-Interstate in Texas many times, but my experience is almost totally west of US 385, and the bulk of it pre-dates the statewide 75 limit rolled out in 2011.  My only experience of Texas later than that has been along US 54 in the Panhandle.
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Road Hog

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Re: Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2016, 06:02:20 PM »

There shouldn't be any tolls if you stay on I-35. The only tolls are on the express lanes in DFW and they'll mail you the bill. I-35 is slowly getting better as they add lanes, and the Waco-Temple stretch is all that's left. But for scenery, I highly recommend 281.
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US 81

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Re: Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2016, 10:22:11 AM »

I-35 used to be awful on the DFW-SA segment. Much of the construction is complete. Last time I was through, I hit heavy traffic north of downtown FW, stop-and-go construction traffic through Waco, evidence of night-time construction in Temple, heavy traffic in Austin and then heavy traffic again starting about Selma/Schertz (just south of New Braunfels) all the way into San Antonio. My guess is, under most conditions, I-35 all the way (taking I-35W thru DFW) would be fastest. Also, most or all of the three lane segments prohibit trucks in the leftmost lane.

I have not been on the Chisholm Trail Parkway myself, but friends who have say it's smooth and free-flowing. I think it would be faster to drive on into Ft. Worth on I-35, go west on I-30 and take the CTP from there into Cleburne, rather than loop around on I-820. 

US 377 had heavy-ish truck traffic and rough pavement when I was on it last.

I would like to suggest I-35W south through Ft Worth to US 67 in Alvarado, south (southwest) to TX 220 near Bluff Dale, which veers southwest to pick up US 281 at Hico. This is my favorite route when going directly between Ft. Worth and San Antonio. [Then again, I am usually going to/from Ft. Worth rather than through it]

US 281 is two-lane for most of the SA-FW segment, but I've never had a problem with traffic flow except south of Spring Branch. Scenic. Enough shoulder through most sections that any trucks pull over to let you pass, also the occasional climbing lane. Two+ lanes in each direction through the larger towns. I do recommend obeying the speed limit through the small towns, but they pass by quickly enough. Traffic can be heavy from Spring Branch onto San Antonio; this segment is two, then three lane per direction surface street, but flows pretty well, with some grade-separated interchanges et al. through to the freeway, which begins at 1604. Heavy deer population, this is not an area to speed through at night, as you've already alluded to. If you were planning to drive at night, I would mention that most of these towns "shut down" at night, you get some flashing traffic lights but it becomes harder to find gas/fast food, etc.

*edited for clarity
« Last Edit: October 11, 2016, 02:01:19 PM by US 81 »
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J N Winkler

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Re: Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2016, 11:49:32 AM »

Thank you both for your advice and suggestions.

After some further Google Maps investigation, I've concluded that US 67/SH 220 via Cleburne is a much better way to make the connection between DFW and the US 281 corridor than US 377 via Granbury.  The US 67/SH 220 route has just six stoplights between I-35 at Alvarado and US 281 at Hico, whereas US 377 has 19 between I-820 and US 281 at Stephenville.  I also considered FM 51 southwest out of Weatherford, but while it passes through scenic country (including what appears to be Brazos River lake country just north of Granbury), it is narrow with no shoulder stripes and is quite twisty in some sections.

In the end, however, I suspect I will bypass the DFW metroplex completely by taking the H.E. Bailey Turnpike southwest out of Oklahoma City, hopping onto US 81 at Chickasha, and using SH 59 out of Bowie to make the connection to US 281.  To allow a visit to the LBJ Ranch, avoid after-dark travel in deer country, and leave time for a restaurant meal in a town that rolls up the carpet early, I suspect I will stop for the night in Johnson City rather than aiming to get all the way to San Antonio the first day.

I would like to check out the Chisholm Trail Parkway at some point, but suspect I will do that as part of a separate trip to DFW after KTA has interoperability with NTTA, perhaps by spring 2017.
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TXtoNJ

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Re: Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2016, 01:36:24 PM »

You will enjoy 281. Plenty of scenic Balcones and Hill Country views, and a whole lot of Texas Super-2 corridors for roadgeek interest.
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wxfree

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Re: Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35
« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2016, 03:06:05 PM »

I'd suggest the US 281 route, even if there's no time advantage.  There's more to a road trip than speeds and travel times.

North Fort Worth is painful at any daytime hour.  I'd suggest another possibility is following I-44 to Wichita Falls and driving along US 281 the rest of the way from there.  I-44 has tolls, but it's K-TAG compatible, and they're a lot cheaper than Texas tolls.  This avoids Fort Worth and replaces it with better scenery and some interesting towns.  Google Maps says I-35W - US 67 - SH 220 - US 281 takes 9 hours and 56 minutes, while the I-44 route needs 9 hours and 54 minutes.  It's the same time, but avoids the perpetual mess in Fort Worth and a curvy 70 mph stretch of US 67, which can be intense.  Unfamiliar drivers tend to want to go reasonably slow, while familiar drivers like me want to go 70 because we know what to expect.

US 281 south of Hico has repeated passing lanes with 75 mph speed limits.  It goes through nice scenery.  North of Hico it doesn't have passing lanes, but has pretty light traffic.
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US 81

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Re: Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35
« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2016, 03:16:51 PM »

Thank you both for your advice and suggestions.

After some further Google Maps investigation, I've concluded that US 67/SH 220 via Cleburne is a much better way to make the connection between DFW and the US 281 corridor than US 377 via Granbury.  The US 67/SH 220 route has just six stoplights between I-35 at Alvarado and US 281 at Hico, whereas US 377 has 19 between I-820 and US 281 at Stephenville.  I also considered FM 51 southwest out of Weatherford, but while it passes through scenic country (including what appears to be Brazos River lake country just north of Granbury), it is narrow with no shoulder stripes and is quite twisty in some sections.

In the end, however, I suspect I will bypass the DFW metroplex completely by taking the H.E. Bailey Turnpike southwest out of Oklahoma City, hopping onto US 81 at Chickasha, and using SH 59 out of Bowie to make the connection to US 281.  To allow a visit to the LBJ Ranch, avoid after-dark travel in deer country, and leave time for a restaurant meal in a town that rolls up the carpet early, I suspect I will stop for the night in Johnson City rather than aiming to get all the way to San Antonio the first day.

I would like to check out the Chisholm Trail Parkway at some point, but suspect I will do that as part of a separate trip to DFW after KTA has interoperability with NTTA, perhaps by spring 2017.

Sounds like a wonderful route. When I first saw your post, I immediately thought of taking US 81 and US 281 and bypassing the interstate all together if time and circumstances were to allow.

That more northern segment of 281 has some decent scenery, although I would say it's prettier west, closer to Palo Pinto, Graford and Possum Kingdom. It's been maybe twelve years since I've been out that way, but I don't remember experiencing anything in the way of bottlenecks or problems through there, either.

There is a lot of traffic on FM 51 including a fair number of big trucks, yet another reason I would not recommend it.

The only road geek stop I can think of to point out to you is the Regency bridge, the last suspension bridge in TX open to vehicular traffic. It is probably just a bit too far out of the way, but if time allows, it is southwest of Goldthwaite on Mills Co Rd 433.

Have a great, safe trip.

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US 41

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Re: Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35
« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2016, 03:22:46 PM »

In the end, however, I suspect I will bypass the DFW metroplex completely by taking the H.E. Bailey Turnpike southwest out of Oklahoma City, hopping onto US 81 at Chickasha, and using SH 59 out of Bowie to make the connection to US 281.  To allow a visit to the LBJ Ranch, avoid after-dark travel in deer country, and leave time for a restaurant meal in a town that rolls up the carpet early, I suspect I will stop for the night in Johnson City rather than aiming to get all the way to San Antonio the first day.

US 81 south of Chickasha down to Duncan is an excellent highway to drive on. The speed limit is 70 on the 4 lane stretch down to Duncan and south of Duncan it has a 65 mph speed limit. It looks like taking OK/TX 79 and TX 148 down to Jacksboro, TX, would be the best way to connect to US 281 from US 81 in Waurika, OK.

I drove on US 81 and TX 79 to shunpike I-44 on the way down to Ojinaga, Mexico, in February. It (the 81/79 routing) was well worth it in my opinion. The bridge, and the river below, on OK/TX 79 when you cross the Red River is also kind of neat.
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kphoger

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Re: Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35
« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2016, 04:10:48 PM »

You may remember that I had researched these alternatives in depth a couple of years ago because I have vowed to never again drive through Dallas–Fort Worth.  I have since that time changed my usual route to and from Mexico to go through San Angelo and Wichita Falls, rather than San Antonio and DFW.

At any rate, US-281 should be a less stressful route but likely won't actually save you any time.  The number of stoplights I counted on Google Maps was in the 20s or 30s, but passing lanes are plentiful.  When this was in the plans for my trips, I would have cut down from OKC to Wichita Falls and then taken 281 from there.  This route might be worth choosing, even if it takes a little longer, just for the Hill Country scenery you should get to enjoy.

My actual suggestion, however, would be to just grin and bear it, taking I-35 all the way through.  Take the western split through Fort Worth.  In my experience (limited to Friday and Saturday mornings southbound and Saturday and Sunday midday northbound), traffic delays usually amount to no more than fifteen or twenty minutes through that city.  I did once encounter a complete closure northbound due to an overturned tractor-trailer (the day after having a wheel bearing go out in the Mexican desert and thus arriving at our motel after midnight, hence my decision to avoid that city from here on), but that kind of delay is an anomaly.  Waco and Temple aren't bad.  It's Austin that can be hit or miss.

Depending on what part of San Antonio you're going to, you might consider TX-130 all the way from Georgetown to Seguin.  It's fairly expensive, but it's soooooo much more peaceful.
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Brandon

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Re: Wichita-San Antonio: alternatives to I-35
« Reply #9 on: October 24, 2016, 01:09:06 PM »

Well, there is the route I took up from Eagle Pass, TX, about two years ago.  You could come down I-35 to Oklahoma City and pick up I-44 west (south) to Wichita Falls, TX.  From there, south on US-277 and US-83 to Junction, TX.  Then use I-10 east to San Antonio.  A bit longer to SA, but could be something different.
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