Gov. Perry ’Strengthens’ Texas’ Fort Bliss With $16M

Sat August 21, 2004 - West Edition

FORT BLISS, TX (AP) Gov. Rick Perry outlined his plan to spend $16.2 million in state highway money at Fort Bliss to strengthen the post’s position as Congress considers a reorganization of the nation’s military facilities.

Perry said the money is needed to clear congestion on streets near the post and make its operations more efficient as the Department of Defense prepares to send 3,800 more military personnel to El Paso by 2006.

Last month, Perry announced a plan to spend $20.5 million on road improvements around Fort Hood where the Defense Department has said it will send 5,000 more personnel.

Both allocations will be considered by the Transportation Commission at its Aug. 26 meeting in Austin. The commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, must approve the plans.

“Fort Bliss is critical in the war on terror,” Perry said at a news conference in front of more than 200 National Guard soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq. “We want to see its mission and manpower expanded.”

The main project in the plan would create an overpass between Biggs Army Airfield and Fort Bliss, a route that now crosses a road that runs next to the El Paso International Airport and is busy with civilian traffic.

More than 40,000 military personnel have been deployed and redeployed from Fort Bliss since the terrorist attacks in 2001, said Fort Bliss Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Michael A. Vane. About 900 Fort Bliss troops are now deployed in Iraq and other places around the world.

The money would come from a $400 million Texas Department of Transportation fund that can be used for important projects that come up relatively suddenly, said Mike Cox, a department spokesman.

Although the state can pay for only about a third of the highway projects it has planned in each budget cycle, Perry said the money spent on the state’s military posts serves an important purpose.

“It will place Fort Bliss in a stronger position as the [U.S. Congress] makes base closure and realignment decisions in the near future,” Perry said.

President Bush announced on Aug. 16 that two U.S. Army divisions will leave bases in Germany, ultimately bringing up to 70,000 troops –– plus about 100,000 family members and civilian workers –– back to the United States. Major shifts would not begin before 2006.

Perry has championed a state highway network that would create trade routes and bypasses around cities. He said committing more than $35 million for the military projects won’t delay the other construction projects.

El Paso Mayor Joe Wardy said thousands more military personnel in El Paso translates to an economic impact of more than $500 million for the area. Along with that, it is estimated more than 4,000 jobs will be created and school enrollment will increase by more than 5,000 students.

“Our goal is to get 10,000 additional troops here,” Wardy said.