Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Closer Look: 2014 Unified Transportation Program

TXDOT’s Program Document Gives Snapshot of Future Projects

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) programmed hundreds of millions of dollars earlier this year for El Paso’s Border Highway West extension, a project whose total budget could reach $800 million. That’s according to the state’s latest Unified Transportation Program (UTP), approved by the Texas Transportation Commission in June. 

TXDOT uses the UTP to authorize transportation projects for the state, but does not necessarily mean full present-day funding is available for each individual project. Although the Border Highway West has a certain budget in the document, only $300 million has been approved so far.

The nearly 1,200-page UTP includes about 30 pages dedicated to developments in the El Paso District. Timeframes in the report look forward about ten years from the present.

2014

Projects listed for Fiscal Year 2014, which began on September 1, 2013, are spread throughout the city and county. The largest listed in the document is construction of FM 3880 from Alameda Avenue to Interstate 10 in southeastern El Paso County in Tornillo. The new $17.2 million highway will help take traffic to and from the expanded port of entry at the Mexican border, currently under construction.

About $11.5 million is programmed for reconstruction of streets in Downtown El Paso. Another $5.5 million may be used to make improvements to Pan American Drive and Winn Road near the Zaragoza Port of Entry. 

Smaller projects include purchases of buses for use in the County, construction of sidewalks around town particularly along Mesa Street to compliment the Bus Rapid Transit System (RTS) line, and a light-rail study for the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry.

2015

Fiscal Year 2015, which begins in September of next year, has a longer list of projects than the previous year. By far, the largest is the Border Highway West project which could start construction next year. At $800 million, no other project is even close in budget or scale.

The $36 million Americas Managed Lanes project is scheduled for 2015 and would create a tolled lane in each direction on Loop 375 from the Zaragoza Port of Entry to Bob Hope Drive on the East Side of El Paso. 
The Border Highway West has a budget of $800 million,
though only $300 million has been allocated so far.

Another $21 million may be used to construct two more direct connectors between I-10 and Loop 375 at the Americas Interchange. These would be the final two ramps for the interchange; the fourth, fifth, and sixth connectors are currently under construction.

Also in the eastern portions of the area, $12.6 million could help widen Eastlake Boulevard from four to six lanes from I-10 to Darrington Road. The state hopes the project will ease congestion in one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the area.

The City of El Paso’s RTS corridors could get programmed funds, with around $9.2 million for the Dyer Street Corridor and $9.7 million for the Montana Avenue Corridor in 2015. And $9.2 million may be used for reconstruction of Alameda Avenue from Padres Drive to Loop 375.

The Lower Valley may see other projects, such as a $5.6 million project to replace the Carolina Drive bridge off of Alameda Avenue and a $1 million Park-N-Ride project for the Zaragoza Port of Entry. 

Smaller projects include texturizing of shoulders on various highways, construction of curb ramps, and rehabilitation of sidewalks.
This table from the 2014 Unified Transportation Program shows yearly programmed totals for the El Paso District. (www.txdot.gov)

2016

In Fiscal Year 2016, the largest project listed in the UTP is a new $10 million four-lane street that will continue Eastlake Boulevard southward from I-10 and connect it to North Loop Drive. Another $2.48 million may be used to install a continuous turn middle lane on Socorro Road of which $2.15 million has been programmed.

Delta Drive in South Central El Paso will have a bridge replaced in a $1.8 million project. And Doniphan Road may receive raised medians from Mesa Street to the New Mexico state line in a $1.13 million project. 

In other general projects, $3 million may be allotted for highway aesthetics improvements on I-10, while surface streets will see traffic signal improvements, curb ramp installations, and re-planking at railroad crossings.

2017-2018 

The UTP lists only smaller projects for 2017, then two large projects to begin in 2018. The first project will add collector-distributor lanes to I-10 from Executive Center Boulevard to Mesa Street in West El Paso. According to the UTP, the project cost is $39.4 million, of which $24 million is programmed for 2018.

A related project would construct an interchange at Mesa Park Boulevard plus frontage roads that would connect Mesa Park to Executive Center Boulevard. The project may cost $55 million, of which $45 million is programmed in the UTP.

Mesa Park Boulevard will connect commuters to the Aldea El Paso SmartCode development which earlier this year received approval from the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA) to help fund construction of the interchange and frontage road project. The 2018 timeline for the project in the UTP differs somewhat from the deal Aldea’s developer struck with TXDOT, which has the project starting in 2014.

Tentative Funding and Other Projects

Projects for 2019 through 2023 are not listed in the UTP, though there are associated total dollar amounts for each year. In all, the next ten fiscal years amount to about $1.36 billion for the El Paso District in programmed funds.

As with any transportation plan, local-, regional-, or state-level projects may be added or deleted from documents like the UTP. Plus local project lists are usually longer and more optimistic than those approved at the state-level. The El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) Transportation Improvement Program, for instance, lists scores more projects than the UTP. 

State transportation funds have been a contentious issue in recent legislative sessions, though Texas voters may give new construction and maintenance projects a $1.2 billion shot in the arm next year. Lawmakers approved putting the proposal on the November 2014 ballot earlier this year. Funds would be diverted from oil and natural gas tax revenue that would normally go into the state’s reserve.

The Unified Transportation Program may be viewed at TXDOT’s website, www.txdot.gov

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