Border Expressway

Do you remember the days of “Drive friendly – the Texas way”?

For me, it’s a foggy memory. Driving around town today feels more like a game of Battleship with every man/woman out for him/herself.

I am no exception as I strategize my way home from Porfirio Diaz in the evening. The completion of Spur 1966 will improve the lives of some of our staff more than TxDOT could ever imagine. I think it will also improve the safety of UTEP pedestrians, something you can relate to if you’ve ever experienced the confusing stop signals on Schuster.

Then, over the summer I moved to the Upper Valley and am racking up the miles from a painful detour until Country Club Road reopens. Will it ever?

At the height of my frustration, I remind myself that these are necessary growing pains. The end result will be exciting for El Paso. And exciting for me!

Like an answer from above, I got an invitation to the groundbreaking of the Border West Expressway the same day that I’d been begging reporters Robert Gray and David Crowder to follow up on this story. Traffic was particularly bad that morning and I marched in wanting to get to the bottom of whatever had happened to this project.

I’m delighted to learn that it’s moving forward. On Oct. 6, the contract with developer Abrams-Kiewit was finally signed, and on Wednesday, local dignitaries shoveled the ceremonious dirt to mark its start.

The Border West Expressway is a continuation of Loop 375, picking it up Downtown and eventually connecting to Interstate 10 at Racetrack Drive near Sunland Park Drive.

The 7.4-mile, four-lane project will cost $600 million and will include almost six miles of tolled lanes.

Today, the team is working on the design, right of way acquisitions and utility relocations. Construction should begin in next spring and you can expect to drive on it by the fall of 2017.

At the groundbreaking, County Judge Veronica Escobar pointed out that El Paso will finally get a true loop to move traffic around our city and relieve congestion through the city’s center.

But what about the major gap in the loop from Racetrack Drive to Transmountain? I wondered if there was a second phase planned. There are significant back ups when the freeway drops to two lanes after the Mesa exit heading west. Add to it a new hospital and lots of development at Transmountain and traffic will only get worse.

I was a little disappointed to find out that there’s no intention to close up those six miles with a separate loop. It will become a dual designation roadway. In other words, I-10 will be Loop 375 for that stretch.

Sergio Garcia, the TxDOT project manager, gave me new perspective, however.

I was looking at the new expressway as an answer to my own personal commuting issues. And while it will help many Westsiders in the long run, that’s not really the project’s priority.

Once up and running, the expressway will allow TxDOT to move forward on I-10’s much needed rehabilitation. Aside from a little patching here and there, that major artery hasn’t had much work done since it opened more than 50 years ago.

Garcia says the loop is critical in moving traffic through the city when portions of I-10 will be shut down in the future. That’s an understatement.

As for my own concerns about the congestion west of Mesa through Redd Road and on, I get the sense those are low on the priority list. They will probably be addressed when that part of I-10 is on deck for its rehabilitation. We might see things like a widening and modernizing at the “conflict point.”

Right now is the time for local contractors to get in touch with Abrams-Kiewit about business opportunities. They’re looking for everything from subcontractors for landscaping, fencing and concrete pumping to lumber and trench shoring suppliers, and even trucking services. The contracts manager is Will Koenig and he welcomes inquiries at William.koenig@akjvteam.com. There’s a site with limited information right now, but they plan on posting these opportunities there, too: www.BorderWestExpressway.com.

And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ted Houghton, to whom much of the groundbreaking ceremony was dedicated. Just about everyone who spoke mentioned what a great win it has been for El Paso to have Ted Houghton advocating for us on the Texas Transportation Commission and getting the funding needed to drive progress in El Paso.

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(1) comment

ep3395

I agree, that stretch from mesa to transmountain needs at least another lane added. In regards to the project I think it's great that the traffic problems are being addressed with more highways but what about improving transportation for cyclists,pedestrians and public transportation users? All these fancy highways and bridges acomplish nothing but allow El Pasoans to live farther from their jobs and increase sprawl. The city leaders should learn a thing or two from Enrique Peñalosa who is transforming Bogota. We as cyclists and pedestrians feel like second class citizens. There is this message that we keep sending that if you don't own a car, you are a nobody forced to withstand speeding cars that honk at you and don't respect pedestrian signals. El Paso has great potential with 300 days of sunshine a year for cyclists and pedestrians and it would make El Paso a unique city in the US instead of becoming yet another sprawling desert city with lots of traffic, abundant drivethroughs, overweight drivers and parking lots, i.e. generic america.

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