Construction Begins On City's Most Expensive Highway

Construction Begins On City's Most Expensive Highway
By Ryan Poulos

Construction has begun on the $367 million Inner Loop Project that will connect U.S. 54 to Loop 375. Officials say the project, which will include a new entrance to Fort Bliss, will be completed by early 2011.

"It's going to change the way people travel in El Paso," said El Pasoan Ted Houghton, who is a member of the Texas Transportation Commission "It will be like a full-scale interstate highway."

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) recently signed an agreement with Austin-based J.D. Abrams to finance, design and build the Inner Loop Project.

The project brings with it a lot of firsts: It's the state's first-ever design-build highway project. TxDOT's deal with J.D. Abrams is the state's first-ever private-sector pass-through financing agreement. And it will be El Paso's most expensive highway, ever.

Pass-through financing agreements allow local municipalities or private entities to pay up-front costs to build a transportation project, then be reimbursed later by the state as motorists use the improvements.

"It's up to [J.D. Abrams] to bring this thing to market sooner rather than later, and they should, because then they will get rewarded sooner," Houghton said.

The Inner Loop Project is considered a crucial piece of the Pentagon's plan to bring more than 50,000 soldiers and family members to Fort Bliss and El Paso. The highway will handle military traffic, as well as growing residential construction at Biggs Army Airfield.

It's also expected to help relieve increasing Northeast El Paso traffic, and improve the flow of cargo traffic from Mexico to the El Paso International Airport.

The seven-mile highway, which lawmakers also call Spur 601, will travel over Fred Wilson Avenue to Airport Road, and then continue along Walter Jones Boulevard to Loop 375.

Under terms of the pass-through financing agreement, TxDOT will front $45 million of traditional highway construction funds, with $10 million coming from the airport. Abrams will finance the rest of the project and will then be reimbursed $312,450,00 over time, based on the volume of public usage of the highway.

"[J.D. Abrams] went through a competition to get it just like everybody else," Houghton said. "They had to show up with their pencils sharpened and they were selected."

While the state has signed several such agreements with local governmental entities around the state, the El Paso agreement is the first with a private partner in the United States.

"There is a growing transportation challenge in Texas as needs outpace resources," Houghton said. "We hope this is the first of many agreements in which the private sector will help pay for needed improvements to keep Texas moving."

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