By: Gustavo Reveles Acosta
EL PASO — The commute between the East Side and Fort Bliss will soon get much shorter for soldiers and military employees.
Spur 601 — the 7.4-mile, $268 million inner loop that will connect the Purple Heart Memorial Highway to U.S. 54 at Fred Wilson Avenue — is on schedule to be completed by winter 2011. On Tuesday, the City Council renamed Spur 601 the Liberty Expressway.
Texas Department of Transportation officials on Monday opened the southbound Pershing exit on U.S. 54.
And the connecting ramps between the Patriot Freeway and Fred Wilson are expected to be open to traffic in about four weeks.
“We’re moving along this thing. Pretty soon we will be opening more portions of the spur, and before you know it, it will be complete,” said David Head, the director of construction for the local TxDOT office. “There’s a lot of work being done, and that means a lot of closures. But in the end, I think people will be happy with the shorter commute.”
The expressway was deemed critical by U.S. Department of Defense officials when they decided to increase the number of soldiers at Fort Bliss by 34,000 by 2013.
The increase meant that 45,300 military family members would move to El Paso, too, and officials knew housing would be most readily available on the far East Side.
Shortening the commute between the East Side and the gates of Fort Bliss then became a priority.
“The spur will cut down on travel time significantly,” Head said. “As of right now, people likely have to either take É (I-10) or Montana (Avenue). That can take a while.”
The segment of the spur from the Purple Heart Memorial Highway to the area around the El Paso International Airport is already open to traffic. When the entire highway is finished, it is expected to handle more than 50,000 vehicles a day. That’s about as many cars as the traffic that now uses U.S. 54 near Trans Mountain Road.
Felicia Johnson, the wife of a U.S. Army officer who works at Fort Bliss, said she looks forward to the expressway’s completion. She says that her husband travels to the post daily and that she and her sons make weekly trips to the shops inside the gates.
“It takes me a good 30 minutes to get to Fort Bliss right now if I need to go to the PX or the commissary,” Johnson said after dropping off her son at El Dorado High School on the East Side. “The prices there are good, so if I could shorten that travel time, it would be awesome. It’d make my life much better.”
Gustavo Reveles Acosta may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6133.