Tuesday, November 19, 2013

From Avenue to Freeway

Montana Project May See Substantial Expansion

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) revealed its latest plans for Montana Avenue at a public meeting last week, and its newest vision for the thoroughfare has grown considerably in less than a year. The thoroughfare, also known as US 62/180, may now become a freeway for over seven miles on El Paso’s East Side.
The new US 62/180 freeway may have direct connector ramps to and from Loop 375, as shown in this schematic design. (TXDOT)

The project’s limits stretch from half a mile west of Yarbrough/Global Reach Drive to a half mile east of North Zaragoza Road. TXDOT schematics show a controlled-access freeway with three lanes in each direction that will create overpasses and underpasses at major intersections.

Frontage roads will also be added in each direction and be used as gateways for the freeway lanes. These gateways will also allow access to commercial land along US 62/180. And at least two interchanges may include direct-connector ramps.

Route Details

Montana Avenue will become a freeway just west of Yarbrough/Global Reach Drive where it will actually depress and travel underneath the intersection. Direct connectors will connect southbound Global Reach Drive to the new eastbound freeway lanes, and westbound freeway lanes to northbound Global Reach.
Some portions of the new freeway will create underpasses at certain intersections. (TXDOT)

A short distance east, the Lee Trevino Drive exit and entrance ramps will braid with the direct connectors. The freeway lanes will travel over the intersection at Lee Trevino.

Regular diamond as well as braided ramps will take commuters to and from George Dieter Drive. US 62/180 will create an overpass at the George Dieter intersection. Another set of braided ramps will be located between George Dieter and Lee Boulevard where the freeway lanes will create another overpass.

An underpass will be located at the intersection with Saul Kleinfeld Drive, though no ramps to the west will directly serve the neighborhood avenue. Those needing to access Saul Kleinfeld from the westbound freeway, and vice versa, will have to travel through the Lee Boulevard intersection.
The US 62/180 freeway will begin just west of Global Reach Drive, and ramps will take westbound drivers directly onto the boulevard that leads to Fort Bliss. Southbound drivers on Global Reach will be able to take a ramp to eastbound lanes of the new freeway. (TXDOT)

Further east, the new freeway lanes will travel underneath Joe Battle Boulevard and Loop 375. The schematic design for the interchange shows four direct connector ramps that drivers may use: eastbound US 62/180 to southbound Loop 375; northbound Loop 375 to westbound US 62/180; southbound Loop 375 to eastbound US 62/180; and westbound US 62/180 to northbound Loop 375.

The freeway lanes continue east, creating an overpass at Tierra Este Road. An eastbound exit ramp and westbound entrance ramp will serve Tierra Este, while similar ramps will serve another intersection set for Rich Beem Boulevard where another overpass will be located.

The final new overpass will be located at Square Dance Road before the freeway ends at the existing overpass at Zaragoza Road.

Change of Plans

In February of this year, TXDOT officials held a public meeting to discuss their plans for Montana Avenue from Yarbrough Drive to Loop 375. According to the meeting notice, plans for most of the route were to construct three lanes in each direction with a 52-foot median.

That initial project plan would have included approximately $5.7 million worth of improvements to Montana Avenue while still keeping it a major boulevard.
The new US 62/180 freeway will create an underpass at Saul Kleinfeld Drive. (TXDOT)

Now, the plans have, in essence, greatly expanded the median and include a freeway and ramps in that space. The frontage roads will become Montana Avenue and include three lanes in each direction west of Loop 375, bike lanes, sidewalks, and a 10-foot “hike & bike trail” on the northern side.

The newest vision will reportedly cost more than $400 million to build with construction beginning in 2015.

East Side Focus

State officials at TXDOT have made several project announcements in the last few months suggesting a particular focus on Far East El Paso, most likely due to increasing traffic counts in this part of the city. Part of the reason behind the amount of traffic may be commuters traveling between Fort Bliss and the East Side. For years, Far East El Paso has been the fastest growing area of the city. Coupled with ballooning growth on the eastern sections of the Army post, notable increases in traffic have occurred.

In addition to the new freeway project, officials are also planning: a widening of Loop 375 from Montana Avenue to Spur 601 and the inclusion of frontage roads along the route; a widening of Spur 601 from Airport Boulevard to Loop 375, also with new frontage roads; a widening of North Zaragoza Road from Loop 375 to Montana Avenue; a widening of Montwood Drive from Firehouse Drive to Sun Fire Boulevard; and a Diverging Diamond Interchange at the Loop 375 and Spur 601 intersection.

And, the 7.6 mile stretch of US 62/180 slated to become a freeway may not be the only portion of Montana Avenue to get freeway-type treatment. Hawkins Avenue has also been considered for a “grade separation” project, one that would create an overpass or underpass at Montana.