Leaders of the Texas Transportation Commission and The University of Texas System Board of Regents joined UTEP President Diana Natalicio at the Sept. 16 ceremony for the $4.8 million Sun Bowl Drive Widening Project that will be overseen by the Texas Department of Transportation.
They were joined by about 70 people including state officials, University administrators, TxDOT personnel and UTEP students who withstood blustery winds during the morning ceremony in the P-6 parking lot off Sun Bowl Drive near the stadium.
The 10-month project will impact approximately a half-mile portion of the road from just south of the Don Haskins Center to just north of the Sun Bowl Parking Garage. The work will start Monday, Sept. 23, with the shifting of lanes to the stadium side of the street. Contractors will begin on the opposite side of the road near the Haskins Center and work their way south.
Once completed, enhancements will include two additional lanes in each direction including a wider outside lane to accommodate bicyclists, a sidewalk at least five feet wide on both sides of the road, enhanced lighting and The University of Texas at El Paso’s third roundabout at the Sun Bowl Drive/Glory Road intersection.
President Natalicio, holding her hair back with one hand and securing the pages of her speech with the other because of the winds, said this latest collaboration with TxDOT will benefit the campus and the community by creating a safer, more accessible north-south corridor that is especially necessary during special events and their increased traffic demands.
Pedestrians will be detoured away from the job site for the duration of the project for safety. One lane in each direction will remain open during construction, except during Miners football games, beginning with the Oct. 5 Homecoming game.
The project is the latest alliance with TxDOT. Other recent TxDOT work around UTEP has included the redesign of the Schuster Avenue off ramp from Interstate 10 West, the roundabout at Sun Bowl Drive and University Avenue that include the Mining Minds pickaxe sculpture, the Bhutanese pedestrian bridge over Sun Bowl Drive that connects the Health Sciences and Nursing Building terrace with the S-3 parking lot, and the Spur 1966 project on the southern edge of campus that includes the University’s second roundabout on Schuster, which was completed this fall, and an overpass that will connect Paisano Drive west of the freeway to Schuster at the roundabout. TxDOT also made an $8 million contribution to the UTEP Campus Transformation projects.
President Natalicio explained that TxDOT’s recent $8 million commitment enabled the UT Board of Regents to allocate $10 million in August from its Permanent University Fund bond proceeds to help with the Campus Transformation infrastructure enhancements.
She praised Ted Houghton, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission and one of the dignitaries present, for providing the guidance and leadership to promote these projects.
Houghton shared the credit for his efforts, but described his own admiration for the work being done in and around UTEP and singled out President Natalicio for the vision and direction she provides the University.
“These are exciting times,” he said.
During his comments, Paul Foster, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, told the audience that the board was proud of the progress being accomplished at UTEP, calling it “Tier One” in every way.
“This is a great day,” said Foster, a longtime UTEP supporter and donor. “This is a step forward for UTEP and El Paso.”
Officials called for motorists to use extra caution near the work zone. UTEP Police Chief Cliff Walsh asked drivers to be careful and patient with the other drivers sharing the road. His simple message was “drive defensively.”
As for the students, senior studio art major Marco Sanchez said the construction along Sun Bowl Drive will make things better for commuters, especially when the University plays host to sporting events or special activities such as concerts or graduations.
This collaboration with TxDOT is another example of the University being progressive as it enhances mobility around the campus while making it pedestrian friendly within campus, Sanchez said.
Sophomore Chyanne Smith, a creative writing major, said she has had to park in remote lots because of construction, but knows the issues are temporary compared to the benefits.
“I’m excited to see (the improvements),” Smith said while waiting for a Miner Metro shuttle near the University Bookstore. “It’ll be better in the long run for traffic.”
Daniel Perez is a senior writer in UTEP's Office of University Communications.