Spur of the Moment

One year ago, Achieving Business Excellence profiled J.D. Abrams, LP, an Austin, Texas-headquartered firm offering heavy civil contractor works infrastructure projects services and specializing in public works infrastructure projects. At that time we reported on its current project there, the nation’s first “pass-through financing” transportation project, whose up-front costs are being financed by a private sector developer in a unique private-public construction project. This time around, we checked in to discover how that project is progressing.


Founded in El Paso in 1966, J.D. Abrams employs over 500 people in its El Paso office. It also jas offices in Austin, Houston and Dallas. “We’ve built excellent relationships over the years with subcontractors and materials suppliers her in our own backyard,” says Bill Burnett, vice president of project development for J.D. Abrams.

The project-a joint venture between Abrams, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and El Paso Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA, issuer of the transportation bonds) – includes the $268 million Spur 601 Inner Loop project, a new 7.5-mile freeway that will connect the Patriot Freeway (US Highway 54) and the Purple Heart Memorial Freeway (State Loop 375). The project will help ease traffic congestion in the FortBliss area, which is expecting about 21,000 military personnel and their families to arrive, in support of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decision to move the 1st Armored Division there. Abrams and the CRRMA will begin receiving payments from 2011 through 2021 based on the number of vehicles using the new toll-free road. For the road construction involved in this project, Abrams is working closely with TxDOT.

One of the biggest challenges, reports Burnett, was figuring out how to relocate 34 utilities owned between 14 utility companies. “The design is complete and has been accepted by the utility owners, and utility construction is about 85 percent complete”. The utilities include natural gas, water and sewage, electric distribution and transmission lines, multiple telecommunication companies and four petroleum pipeline companies.

Another design feat is the demolition of a current bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad and the construction of four new bridges over the railroad. “UP has approved our demolition plan to remove the existing bridge over their tracks,” says Burnett.

The four new bridges over the railroad (currently being constructed) will be built to the standards required of freeway bridges. There will be an eastbound bridge and a westbound bridge for Spur601. The other two bridges will be direct connectors, eliminating the need for motorist to encounter traffic signals or intersections at the intersection of Spur 601 and US 54. “This will greatly ease the flow of traffic and air pollution in that area, and the new bridges will put military personnel right on the freeway interchange for easy access to east FortBliss.”

The first of several milestones was achieved recently when a section involving two city streets that tie into Spur 601 was opened two months ahead of schedule, relieving congestions in other parts of the city.  Another big milestone is due on May 28, when 2.5 miles of the eastern part of the Spur will open to traffic. “This is a major achievement for us,” Burnett notes. “People who live in northeastern El Paso now have another way to get to east FortBliss.” 

The project to build the utilities infrastructure, roads and building pads at FortBliss involves Abrams working closely with the Army Cops of Engineers. This infrastructure construction is for the new Army facilities for Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) 1, 2 and 3 on 600 acres. To date, BCT 2’s facility is complete, and BCT1’s and BCT3’s are wrapping up.

“We put over 60 miles of utilities in the ground, and we built about 20 miles of streets,” reports Burnett. “Abrams is currently also developing over 400 acres of land for the Infantry Brigade Compact Teams [IBCTs] 1 and 2 and an overpass at State Loop 375 connecting the BCTs and the IBCTs. Other contractors associated with other product lines have and will continue to come behind us and add their product lines [buildings, etc.]. So what used to look like the desert two and a half years ago now looks like a small city.”

Abrams’ two wholly owned subsidiaries also play a major role in expediting the projects Transmountain Equipment, for example supplies and maintains Abrams with all its construction equipment (off-road trucks, concrete pavers, paving machines, etc.).  Austin PreStressed provides prestressed and pre-cast concrete products. “Instead of making the materials here in Austin and shipping them 600 miles to El Paso, Austin PreStressed has set up a facility adjacent to the project and cast the materials right there on site,” notes Burnett.

Remarkably, there have been no lost-time accident on this project, which, to date, has logged in over 700,000 worker-hours just for Abrams itself. Burnett reports that the many subcontractors also report no lost-time accidents.

On the local economy side of the equation, Burnett says the project is a real boon to El Paso, even as the nation struggles with its own economic woes. “We’ve been able to use over 30 local El Paso firms on this project. And we moved in about 70 designers from national design firms who will live here for a year, so they’ll be spending in local stores.”

Burnett attributes the many successes Abrams has achieved to a unified approach to every project. “When we have meetings, everyone leaves their titles at the door and the attitude is all about what’s best for the project.” He credits Bill Mahrer, El Paso project manager, for “doing a great job organizing and staying on top of the project.” Kudos also go out to John [sic] Abrams, president, and Brad Everett, operations vice president, for their leadership and support offered on regular visits to company projects.

The project continues to move along on schedule, and Burnett attributes the easy flow to the mutual cooperation of all players. “This is an El Paso project; yet even outside suppliers are treating this from a perspective of what’s best for the citizens of El Paso. This all gets back to the good relationships we have forged over the years.”

-Editorial research by Joe Louis