Highways To Usher In The Troops

By Liz Moucka
Texas Contractor (magazine)

J.D. Abrams builds and improves series of highways in and around Fort Bliss.

Having multiple projects located continuously is an advantage for any contractor in managing equipment, materials and crews. Such is the situation for J.D. Abrams, L.P. in El Paso. J.D. Abrams, L.P. currently has crews busy on three contiguous highway projects in the area north of downtown El Paso and in the area of Fort Bliss Army Airfield.

Hwy. 54

J.D. Abrams is slightly past the halfway mark widening a 6.3-mile stretch of US 54 north of downtown El Paso from the Yandell drive overpass to 1,200 feet north of Hondo Pass Drive. Coincidentally, J. D. Abrams originally built US 54 in the late 1970s.

In order to add the extra 72 feet of lane width to expand a four-lane divided facility to a six-lane divided facility, the roadway and bridges are being extended into the center median area. The wider surface will accommodate two 12-foot wide lanes (one to be remained unused) and one 10-foot shoulder in both directions.

The subgrade was excavated to 17 inches. Six inches of subgrade was treated with cement and topped with four inches of Type D hot mix asphalt. The ride surface is constructed of 13 inches of CRCP (continuously reinforced concrete pavement).

TxDOT made a point of accelerating the construction of the new bridge lanes over Hondo Pass Drive in order to minimize the period of traffic using only one main lane. Once two lanes of US 54 over Hondo Pass Drive were opened to traffic, crews were able to begin work on bridges over Broadus/Hero Avenue and Hercules Avenue.

Although not of a significantly large size, construction of the new bridges is a feat in itself. The process begins with the removal of two feet of existing slab on the median side of each bridge to expose the rebar. The new steel is attached to those bars. The contractor is not allowed to reach across the existing bridge main lanes with their lift equipment or concrete pumpers, nor can they situate this type of equipment on the existing bridge slabs due to the weight of the machinery. Therefore, all the elements (columns, column caps, beams, and slabs) must be installed from within the center median. Each pair of bridges will become one structure.

Inner Loop

The El Paso Inner Loop was originally designed to be constructed in phases, because it is such an extensive project, according to TxDOT area engineer Tim Twomey, P.E. "But when the announcement came that the troops would be coming to Fort Bliss, we had to change our plans."

When El Paso began lobbying for the expansion of Fort Bliss during the Base Realignment and Closure process, local and state legislators began pushing for the project to be completed quickly.

Actually, both the Fred Wilson/Airport Interchange and Spur 601 together will make up the Inner Loop, connecting Northeast El Paso to the East Side. "It has always been difficult for drivers to get to Northeast El Paso," said Twomey, "and now with the Fort Bliss expansion, there will be even more traffic."

Fred Wilson/Airport Interchange

Construction of a new interchange between Biggs Army Airfield and Fort Bliss at Fred Wilson Boulevard and Airport Road will help relieve the congestion that has plagued the area for years. The Fred Wilson/Airport Road Interchange project is the initial construction project within the future Spur 601 corridor. J.D. Abrams began work on this project in March 2006 and they are nearing completion, which is scheduled for February 2008.

This initial project will create a three-level interchange:

  • 1st level (depressed section) creates a non-stop Fred Wilson to Airport Road connection
  • 2nd level (at grade with structure over 1st level) will improve Ft. Bliss and Biggs Army Airfield access with realigned direct access ramps
  • 3rd level (elevated structure over 2nd level) will accommodate future Spur 601 main lanes through the interchange.

The massive column caps each contain about 86 cubic yards of concrete. Due to high traffic volume, TxDOT designed the bridges with long spans to reduce the number of columns near the roadway.

To support the huge columns and caps, foundations 19.5 feet square by 5 feet, 3 inches deep were constructed on a set of four piers, each 5 feet in diameter and 40 feet to 55 feet deep. Hardy Hole Drilling drilled the shafts for the piers. J.L Steel tied the rebar.

Because of the extensive need for concrete on this project as well as other J.D. Abrams projects on Fort Bliss, concrete supplier Jobe Materials has set up two batch plants in the vicinity- one rated at 400 cubic yards per hour capacity and one at 250 yards per hour.

Spur 601

Spur 601 has been commonly referred to as the Inner Loop. The 7.4-mile project will connect westward to US 54 (Patriot Freeway) at Fred Wilson Avenue and eastward to Loop 375 (Purple Heart Memorial Highway).

Earlier this year, J.D.Abrams entered into an agreement with the TxDOT to build the state's first ever private sector pass-through financing agreement. The firm will finance, design and build the El Paso Spur 601 at a cost of $367 million. Construction began in October and will be completed in 39 months. In "pass-through tolling," motorist pay nothing. The vehicles are merely counted and the state will then reimburse J.D. Abrams over a number of years based on the number of cars that travel the road.

Part of the new road will be elevated, allowing motorist to enter and leave Biggs Army Airfield via a new gate without having to navigate the traffic lights at Fred Wilson and Airport Roads.

The Inner Loop will serve the area of new BCTs being constructed in the western portion of Fort Bliss and Biggs Army Airfield. "We'll tie into a job we're building at Fred Wilson and direct connect to US 54," said Abrams. "It will be a freeway section presently with four lanes, two each way, with the capability to expand to six lanes. We'll build the direct connects at full width because it's elevated, so we might as well build it all now."

"The Inner Loop was a key for Fort Bliss getting the funding for expansion," said Abrams. "We have been allotted 39 months to complete the project, which is fast-tracked for this amount of work, because the troops are on their way."

Because of the design/build nature of this project, J.D. Abrams and their design partners – URS,KBR, Moreno Cardenas, and PSC (Parkhill, Smith & Cooper) – brought 70 design engineers into a new El Paso office opened specifically for this project, according to Jon Abrams. "We pulled resources from all over the U.S. for this project. They will be here for one year."

"We will acquire the right-of-way; we will relocate the utilities, and design and build the project, and finance it by selling bonds," Abrams explained. "TxDOT is the owner. Most of the project is on the military reservation. TxDOT negotiated an easement with the U.S. Army."