Special Report: I-10 reconstruction project looming

TxDOT district engineer talks exclusively to ABC-7 about challenges facing drivers

SPECIAL REPORT: I-10 reconstruction looming

EL PASO, Texas - Interstate 10 is showing its age.

Portions of the freeway are now fifty years old and need more than patching.

The interstate is in line for a major reconstruction that will cause some major traffic snarls.

ABC-7 recently sat down with Bob Bielek, the district engineer of El Paso's Texas Department of Transportation office, to talk exclusively about the future of I-10.

To illustrate the need for the repair, Bielek shared a video with ABC-7 of road crews examining a hole drilled into the pavement of I-10 in Downtown El Paso, which filled with water as cars drove by.

"We're finding that any time there seems to be a lot of moisture, there is water coming up through the joints in that pavement," Bielek said.

TxDOT believes there is an unusually high water table beneath the freeway, which is made evident when water shoots up from the joints of the road when traffic passes through downtown.

"The greatest destroyer of pavement is water," said Bielek. "Basically, it takes the fine material out and leaves voids and the pavement has to bridge it and that creates potholes. That creates cracks."

This situation has put the depressed section of I-10 downtown near the top of TxDOT's "to-do" list.

But it will be at least four years before crews would break ground.

And that's not the only construction project looming in the near future.

"Basically at some point we'll have to reconstruct everything between Americas and Executive Center," Bielek said. "Hopefully we can keep it patched, keep it safe, until we have the bypass routes available so that we can do that."

As bad is the need is for repairs to I-10, TX DOT said drivers shouldn't fear that a catastrophe is imminent. Bielek said what's scarier is the actual project itself, with the massive amount of money, work and time needed to get the project done.

"Look at the lanes from Paisano to the Spaghetti Bowl. Imagine rush hour with two lanes in each direction, or one lane," said Bielek. "That may be the best we can do. It is a very difficult thing to do because there are no good alternate routes in El Paso."

Bielek emphasized, the lack of access from I-10 to Loop 375 is holding up the project.

"We're getting close to where we have that loop around El Paso that will allow us to do some of that maintenance that has been differed for so long," he added.

Bielek admitted, it's one reason why TX DOT has been pushing for the I-10/Loop 375 interchange in Central El Paso. The project has become controversial since it calls for a new ramp to connect I-10 to US-54 South, which would require the demolition of the old Lincoln Recreation Center.

The center's supporters say the building should be saved for its historical value.

TxDOT said demolishing it is the only way to create a safe route where drivers won't weave while merging into traffic.

"I think people have to look at the bigger picture because that's simply reality," Bielek said. "We can't fix the roads and we can't develop new roads without taking up space."

Until the loop is complete -- and there's easier access to it from I-10 -- Bielek said the necessary reconstruction of the freeway must be put on hold.

"As long as we don't have a major freeze or something else happen out there that would cause a massive failure ... we can keep it patched," said Bielek. "It's not great, it's not good on people's tires, but the other side is, we don't have much of an option in terms of shutting it down."

Bielek said the reconstruction would take ten to twelve years -- and that's assuming the El Paso TxDOT office receives the necessary state funding.

The project would cost $40-60 million a year -- more than the district's current annual budget.

Bielek said the freeway hasn't undergone a major renovation since it was first constructed.

He believes no one in the El Paso office had wanted to deal with the congestion and complaints that project would create.

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