Northeast Anticipates Traffic Improvements

Projects include ‘mini spaghetti bowl,’ Spur 601

Traffic in the Northeast is expected to improve and accommodate growing traffic numbers once two major projects are completed, said officials with the Texas Department of Transportation.

TxDOT crews are working on expanding U.S. 54 between Hondo Pass and Van Buren Avenue in anticipation of thousands of soldiers and their families moving into the area due to the Base Realignment and Closure program, or BRAC, said Chuck Berry, district engineer for TxDOT in El Paso.

Contrary to what a TxDOT project manager said earlier this month, U.S. 54 will not have toll lanes, Berry said. The highway will have an additional third lane each way, with a fourth lane between on and off ramps so that traffic will flow more smoothly, Berry said.

Crews from the Austin-based J.D. Abrams construction company are working on another project on Spur 601, more commonly known as the Inner Loop, that will improve traffic flow from the Northeast into the East Side and areas of Fort Bliss.

Earlier this month, the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority board approved the sale of about $237 million in bonds to pay for the construction of most of the Inner Loop. The 7.4-mile-long, elevated roadway is expected to cost about $268 million and may be completed by Oct. 30, 2011.

Berry said that once Spur 601 is open, the roadway will get more than 50,000 cars a day, which is comparable to traffic volumes on Highway 54 near Trans Mountain Road.

“This is a very timely project,” Berry said. “Although Spur 601 has been planned for a while, the expansion at Fort Bliss was an important contributing factor in getting the funding package.”

The Spur 601 project is an innovative project for TxDOT, Berry said, because it involves government, transportation and private entities.

“I’ve been here 28 years, and I’ve never worked on a project that everyone wanted so badly,” Berry said.

Berry said TxDOT was approached about the project by representatives from J.D. Abrams, who offered to fund the project by using pass-through financing, also referred to as pass-through tolling in the State Legislature. Berry said pass-through financing allows a local government or private entity to propose to fund a highway improvement project, and TxDOT would pay that money back over time.

“The private entity accepts all the risk, and in return, we pay the fixed amount that we think is fair,” Berry said.

After a bid process, Berry said, J.D. Abrams was selected to work on the project.

TxDOT officials said that the Spur 601 project is the largest approved Pass Thru Finance loan for the program. The second largest in Texas is in Montgomery County at $174.47 million and the third largest is in Titus County at $168.6 million.

Another innovative element is that the project is being designed and built at the same time.

“Once the design is 30 percent complete, then construction begins,” Berry said.

The project will also create a “mini spaghetti bowl” above Fred Wilson Avenue, Berry said. It will include ramps directly from U.S. 54 to Spur 601, and improved U-turn lanes and traffic signal approaches. Although TxDOT is limited to what can be done to that area aesthetically, Berry said, the intersection will be cleared up and painted in a similar color scheme to that at U.S. 54 and Sean Haggerty Drive.

Northeast resident Ceci Ponce believes that residents can also get involved in the area’s beautification.

“Sometimes I feel like going out there and raking the intersections around my neighborhood myself,” Ponce said.

Adriana M. Chávez may be reached at; 546-6117.