Part of Inner Loop opens: Spur will connect East Side El Paso to Fort Bliss

By Gustavo Reveles Acosta / El Paso Times

Posted: 05/30/2009 12:00:00 AM MDT

EL PASO — The first phase of what will eventually be an integral highway connecting the East Side to new development on Fort Bliss opened to traffic on Friday.

State and local officials unveiled nearly 8 miles of Spur 601, which is also known as the Inner Loop.

The four-lane freeway that opened stretches from the Purple Heart Memorial Highway part of Loop 375 east to Global Reach Drive near El Paso International Airport.

Only one-third of the spur is completed, and the rest of the project — which will connect at U.S. 54 — is slated to open by January 2011.

“This is a huge step in making sure that traffic from the East Side to Fort Bliss flows well,” said Chuck Berry, district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation. “Because of this project, thousands of people will have a better commute.”

The completed part of the spur cost $55 million and was funded through the state.

J.D. Abrams, the construction company building the highway, will pay for the $313 million worth of roads still to be built, and the state will pay that money back to to the company over the next 10 to 12 years, Berry said.

The Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, an independent local transportation agency, financed J.D. Abrams’ construction through the sale of about $237 million in bonds in 2008.

“We wouldn’t have been able to move along with this project without this type of financing,” Berry said. “If we had done this project the traditional way, we would have had to stop with what was opened (on Friday) and wait for funding to come, which could take decades.”

Transportation officials were interested in fast-tracking the project, especially after the announcement that tens of thousands of soldiers would be moving to El Paso because of expansions at Fort Bliss.

The post is encouraging soldiers new to El Paso to live in areas such as the East Side, where military presence at schools such as El Dorado High School has grown tremendously.

“Making sure the spur was constructed was critical for us,” said Army Col. Edward Manning, Fort Bliss garrison commander. “It will allow our soldiers coming from the east to get to work in a much faster manner. It’s great.”

Manning said the post has plans to develop the area around the spur, and private commerce is already beginning to sprout there.

Eastsider Ruben Gutierrez said he was eagerly awaiting the completion of the entire spur, because it would make his commute to work a lot easier.

“It takes me about 30 minutes to get to work right now using Montana Avenue. The traffic is horrible,” said Gutierrez, who works at a warehouse in the Butterfield Trail area near the airport. “The Spur could probably cut that in half. It’d be awesome.”

Gustavo Reveles Acosta may be reached at; 546-6133.