By Lisa Kay Tate
The Westside stretch of Interstate 10, El Paso’s main traffic artery, has been the focus of one of the biggest infrastructure projects in city history.
“We’ve never had so much activity like this taking place at one time, and we’re very excited about what is happening,” said Jennifer Wright, public information officer for the El Paso District of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
The most visible work in the West Side is the GO 10 Project, which spans almost six miles of I-10 from North Mesa to Executive Center Boulevard. It includes the addition of collector-distributor (CD) lanes between North Mesa and Sunland Park Drive, as well as additional westbound and eastbound lanes on the freeway itself.
TxDOT officials warn, however, that the worst is yet to come — the impending demolition of the Sunland Park interchange “flyover ramp” and other improvements will nearly paralyze the Sunland Park Drive area around Sunland Park Mall and I-10.
The project also is improving freeway interchanges at North Mesa and Resler. Ramps at each interchange will also connect to the CD lanes as well as I-10. None of these interchange projects will impact traffic as much as the Sunland Park section.
Also complementing the GO 10 project is TxDOT’s work on the Mesa Park Interchange, between Executive Center and Mesa Park, which will connect Mesa to the freeway near the Montecillo development. The project is also scheduled to be completed this year.
The GO 10 project also will provide a direct connection from I-10 to Paisano (US 85). This part of the project is where coordination with the new Border West Expressway occurs, establishing Paisano as a more efficient alternate eastbound and westbound route.
The Border West Expressway extends eastward from Racetrack Drive near Doniphan Road and New Mexico 273 to US 54, one mile east of Park Street. Not only will it add more miles of roadway, but will improve access to UTEP, downtown, international bridges and medical centers.
Many El Pasoans have expressed concerns about having both projects underway at the same time, but TxDOT officials have explained that funding priorities required that both proceed together.
The good news is most of the detours and closures should be done by the end of this year, giving not only Westside commuters some relief, but also improving access for everyone to the West Side’s newest developments, such as Montecillo, TopGolf, Alamo Drafthouse and the rapidly growing Northwest El Paso area that features West Towne Marketplace.
Wright said the $158 million GO 10 highway project, which has been in motion since 2015, is ahead of schedule.
“It’s going great guns,” she said. “The project was scheduled to be finished in the spring of 2019, but it looks like most of it should be done before the end of this year.”
TxDOT El Paso District engineer Bob Bielek expects most of the work on the project to be completed before the year’s end.
“I expect all the headaches for drivers will be done before Christmas,” he said. “There will still be some work to be finished, but not the type that will cause traffic issues.”
Bielek noted that the temporary traffic problems caused by the construction are worth the trouble compared to the problems the West Side would face if nothing was done.
“With the increase in traffic here, if we didn’t do this job the traffic in this area would be horrid,” he said.
Drivers are already seeing the results of some of the GO 10 efforts, with the construction of the new ramp at Resler Drive.
“Resler is done and we’re tying it into the CD lanes,” Bielek said. “When the GO 10 project is done and you’re traveling from most points on the West Side to another point on the West Side, you should be able to do this on the CD lanes alone, and never even have to get on to I-10.”
Other TxDOT projects designed to help improve traffic conditions on the West Side include improvements on Artcraft Road, and the addition of another driver lane along Doniphan. The Doniphan lane improvements should be completed in a month or two.
“This will double the capacity of the traffic flow,” Bielek said.
“Once it’s done, it’s really going to make a difference in people’s morning commute,” Wright added, noting that once the CD lane construction is complete, commuters will be able to use these new areas to allow construction on other parts of the freeway.
The work at the intersection of I-10 and North Mesa also continues through the next few months to allow for replacement of the overpass bridge. While construction crews work on segments of this bridge, commuters will see traffic diverged to different lanes during the process. Although work in this area has mainly included the closing of specific lanes, replacing old, worn joints in some bridges and replacing old bridges with entirely new structures will require complete closure of all lanes at some point.
Bielek said he is often asked why construction can’t continue day and night nonstop on until the project is done. There are a variety of reasons this isn’t possible, he said, but added, “We do work very hard to get contractors who keep as much traffic capacity open as humanly possible,” he said.
Bielek said people should definitely notice a difference in West Side’s traffic situation in the near future.
“Once these project are done, there’s going be quite a bit of time before traffic builds up enough for people to even notice there is traffic,” he said.
Wright noted that ultimately, all this inconvenience is really a sign of the area’s growth and economic health. As one member of a local Rotary club told her, “It’s better to have this happening than to not have it happening.”
Sunland shutdown coming
Bielek said the most inconvenient part of the GO 10 project is coming very soon.
“We’re moving into a time where there will be the largest impact on traffic in the Sunland Park area,” he said.
He described three stages to the Sunland Park Drive traffic disruption:
• For several weeks, beginning in April, there will no direct access to I-10 East for drivers headed down Sunland Park Drive from Mesa. That will be due to final preparations to get the new “flyover ramp” ready. The alternative will be to turn left onto I-10 East after crossing the freeway, or avoid Sunland Park Drive entirely.
• Demolition of the old flyover ramp will force two major closures of both Sunland Park Drive and all of I-10 eastbound and westbound for two weekends in late spring, probably lasting from Friday evening through Monday morning. All freeway traffic will be diverted to surface streets, and no one will be able to cross I-10 on Sunland Park Drive during those closures.
• Throughout the summer and into early fall, the Sunland Park Drive bridge over I-10 will be extended to make room for the new eastbound CD lanes. That will close off the old roadway of the bridge, diverting traffic to one of the new “turnarounds” added to the existing bridge. That only gives room for one lane in each direction, so traffic likely be backed up at all times — and come to a complete halt in case of an accident or vehicle breakdown.
So it may be a long, hot summer on Sunland Park Drive. The good news is that by mid-fall, Bielek said, all the new roadways should be in operation.
Border West Expressway
While the GO 10 Project is underway along I-10, travelers along the border route of Paisano are witnessing changes as well.
The Border West Expressway, although not part of the GO 10 Project, is taking place simultaneously. When completed, Paisano will link directly to I-10, along with a new 7.4-mile four-lane toll road east of the Sunland Park bridge, which should be the last part of Loop 375.
Wright said the GO 10 project is not the only one with which the Border West Expressway is coordinating. This project is an undertaking that must work with several other groups.
“‘Coordination’ is the key word with the Border West Expressway,” Wright said. “We’re coordinating with GO 10, the Border Patrol, the International Boundary and Water Commission, Union Pacific railway and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway.”
She said the biggest challenge is coordinating work time with train schedules. TxDOT has also tried to schedule work that may involve closings during weekends or nights when traffic is anticipated to be the lowest.
TxDOT is also making sure the section of the Border West Expressway project on Paisano that meets up with the GO 10 construction gets completed at the same time.
Wright said this project should be completed in the first half of 2019.
Staying in touch
Wright said it is important that people are not only aware of these closures, and other construction updates, those who regularly rely on I-10 on El Paso’s West Side to have access to updates, closures and other information on a timely basis.
This includes using sources like social media to keep updated, including the Twitter accounts for both the local district of TxDOT (@TxDOTELP), as well as the GO 10 (@GO10EP) account.
Wright said they hope to “amp up” the coverage and announcements on the TxDOT Twitter in the near future, but she also strongly recommends checking alerts at go10elpaso.com and subscribing to her email list by sending her a request at Jennifer.Wright3@txdot.gov.
“I have an email I send out to regular associates with updates and news,” she said. “We also rely heavily on area traffic reporters for current information, and are in constant contact with them.”
Drivers will also get a chance to add their own input to what is happening along I-10 throughout the city, with a TxDOT-hosted series of Reimaging I-10 Corridor Study public outreach meetings set for Tuesday and Wednesday, March 6-7, and March 13-14 at various locations.
The study’s goal is to “emphasize the need to reimagine how the corridor operates today and develop unique solutions for the El Paso area.” It spans 55 miles from the Texas-New Mexico state line to Tornillo, and includes more than 200 bridge structures. The project is divided into four sections, to help drivers from throughout the city get a better look at their parts of the highway that best impact their own commutes.
The Northern Gateway segment (from Anthony to Executive Center) covers the West Side, with the other three segments concentrating on Downtown (Executive to the Patriot Freeway), Airport Patriot Freeway to Joe Battle) and the Southern Gateway (Joe Battle to Tornillo). So far, area residents have been very receptive, leaving more than 330 comments, concerns, and ideas on the project’s website; 152 involving the Northern Gateway.
More meeting details, as well as a “virtual meeting,” are available online at reimaginei10.com.
Texas Department of Transportation has several ways of staying connected, staying up to date and staying ahead of the traffic woes:
Go10elpaso.com (click on “Traffic Alerts”)
Borderwestexpressway.com (click on “Construction Updates”)
Drivetexas.org (statewide construction updates)
Txdot.gov (click on “Traffic Cameras” to find El Paso area live feeds)
Reimaginei10.com (Information on the entire route through El Paso, and an opportunity to subscribe to updates about different segments of the route)
Twitter Updates: @TxDOTELP, @GO10EP
For more information on GO 10: 1-844-373-GO10 (4610) or email@example.com.
For the weekly TxDOT news blast, contact Jennifer.Wright3@txdot.gov to get on the mailing list.
Bilingual Traffic Hotline (statewide road conditions): 1-800-452-9292.
New growth on new highway
The completed I-10 improvements will not only make traffic easier for day-to-day commuters, but also improve access for all El Pasoans to some of the West Side’s newest developments.
In particular, the new Mesa Park interchange between Executive Center and Sunland Park Drive will provide easiet access to the mammoth Montecillo “smart community.” That area is also home to two of the city’s most recent high-profile entertainment venues: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Tap Room and Topgolf.
Alamo Draftfhouse opened in May of 2016, and will be the anchor of the forthcoming Entertainment District at Montecillo, across from the “non-traditional” shopping center TI:ME and The Venue Apartments. The entire Montecillo area is part of the smart growth community stretching from Mesa to I-10 that includes residential, retail and office options.
Topgolf, the West Side’s newest attraction, opened Feb. 2 and is visible from I-10 between Sunland Park and Executive Center. It features more than 100 climate controlled hitting bays, restaurants, bars, meeting rooms and a rooftop terrace.
Last year, EPT Land Communities announced the Resort at Montecillo, a Marriot-brand hotel and resort that should include three large restaurants, a resort style pool with waterslides feeding into the “lazy river” pool, and event and meeting rooms among its features. The resort was officially announced in April 2017, but no fixed opening date has been set.
Further along I-10 is the new West Towne Marketplace at Paseo del Norte (Artcraft). The 500,000-square-foot open-air retail and entertainment venue opened in September 2017, along with the city’s first Cabela’s outdoors store and other retail and food venues. Flix Brewhouse Cinema Eatery announced it’s coming to West Towne Marketplace in late 2018.
The Texas-based brewhouse is “the world’s only combination first-run cinema and dine-in microbrewery” and will feature movies, dining and special events.
Copyright 2018 by Cristo Rey Communications