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Inner Loop funds OK'd: $237 million in bonds to be sold

News Source: El Paso Times

Jan. 15, 2008

By David Crowder / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 01/15/2008 12:00:00 AM MST

The Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority board approved the sale of about $237 million in bonds Monday to pay for the construction of most of Spur 601, better known as the Inner Loop.

The 7.4-mile-long, elevated roadway being built by the Austin-based J.D. Abrams construction company is going to cost about $268 million.

Construction on the project to connect Loop 375 to U.S. 54 began in mid-December and is expected to be complete by Oct. 30, 2011.

Businessman and RMA board member Tanny Berg said he recognized the need for the loop in the early 1990s as a way to get heavy truck traffic from Butterfield Trail Industrial Park at the airport off of Airport Drive and Airway Boulevard.

That truck traffic as well as heavy trucks headed to and from Mexico will use the Inner Loop.

"It will save the city a fortune in street maintenance alone because all those trucks will use Spur 601 to get to I-10 and go east," Berg said. "And who will maintain it? The state."

The Department of Defense insisted on the new and easier access to Fort Bliss and Biggs Army Airfield that the loop will provide as a condition to sending 20,000 more troops to Fort Bliss.

Veronica Callaghan, a business woman involved in various trade issues, said the Inner Loop will also provide better access to the city's planned research park on airport property.

"It will benefit the tenants at Butterfield Trail, which is the hub of the foreign trade zone," she said. "Then you have that convergence of traffic from Juárez and distributors on the East Side and West Side trying to get to the express air companies like FedEx before the 7 o'clock deadline everyday. The loop will help them a lot."

Bill Burnett, vice president of J.D. Abrams and the former El Paso district engineer for the Texas transportation department, conceded that $268 million is a lot to pay for 7.4 miles of roadway, and explained why it's so expensive.

Because of the narrow right of way near the Fort Bliss National Cemetery, he said, the six-lane Spur 601 expressway will have to be elevated for more than 6,000 feet with the access roads underneath.

"It's kind of like threading a needle. You have a very narrow area to put in a freeway," Burnett said. "To do that, you have to build two bridges, one for east bound traffic and one for west-bound traffic. There's nothing like that in El Paso."

Then, where the Inner Loop connects to Patriot Freeway, Abrams is going to build a full interchange.

"It's very similar to the Spaghetti Bowl where you can go from one highway to the other without going through traffic signals." he said. "With the two long bridges and the interchange, that's probably $80 million right there."

Another interchange will be built where Spur 601 hits Loop 375.

The project also calls for the relocation of 4,000 feet of Walter Jones Boulevard and construction of 3,500 feet of Constitution Road.

"That's two and a half miles of city street in addition to 7 miles of freeway," Burnett said. "It's also different from a regular highway project because we're having to pay for the right of way and the design, plus we're having to move 77,000 linear feet of utilities -- water, waste water, electric, telephone, cable, petroleum, gas and the Fort Bliss main communication lines, plus a Federal Aviation Administration facility."

The 10-year bonds will be repaid by the Texas Department of Transportation, which has already put $55 million toward the project.

That puts the actual, bond-financed portion of Abrams' cost at $213 million. The $24 million difference between that figure and the $237 million in bonds the authority will sell is the interest on the bonds, which are expected to sell at an interest rate of about 4 percent.

Voting for the bond sale were board Vice President Ann Herkenhoff and members Ralph Adame, Tanny Berg, J.O. Stewart and David Marcus.

The board will meet Feb. 7 to give final approval to the bond sale. Bond counsel on the project is Paul Braden of the Houston-based Fulbright and Jaworski law firm. The financial adviser is First Southwest of Dallas.

In other action Monday, the regional mobility authority board accepted the resignation of the chairman, John Broaddus, who will have to be replaced by Gov. Rick Perry, and postponed the election of officers until a special meeting later this month.

David Crowder may be reached at dcrowder@elpasotimes.com; 546-6194.