El Paso Int’l Creates Airport Neighborhood With Paved Walkways, Lighting & Landscaping

El Paso Int’l Creates Airport Neighborhood With Paved Walkways, Lighting & Landscaping
Victoria Soukup
Published in: 

Walkability is a buzzword usually associated with city planning; and curb appeal is typically an issue for real estate agents. Both, however, are now key features at El Paso International (ELP).

The West Texas airport is completing an $11 million exterior renovation that links its terminal to nearby restaurants and onsite hotels via paved walkways. Improving passenger drop-off/pickup areas and upgrading exterior landscaping and lighting are other primary projects. 

The initiative, paid for with airport enterprise funds, was spearheaded to give ELP a new sense of identity and provide a “wow factor” for visitors. Last year, the airport served more than 3.2 million passengers.

“The city of El Paso and El Paso International Airport are growing; and as we grow, it is our strategic goal to provide a superior passenger experience and a phenomenal first and last impression of this city,” says Monica Lombraña, A.A.E., managing director of Aviation and International Bridges. “The plan is to make the airport more than just a transit station by improving its curb appeal and overall connectivity. It will be a place people want to spend their time.”

ELP Project Manager R. Shane Brooks explains that the airport renovations are part of Sun City Lights, a citywide effort to add public art, improve urban design and promote neighborhood revitalization throughout El Paso. For its part, ELP opted to light up its property, change drop-off and pickup traffic patterns in front of the terminal and link the terminal building with surrounding hotels and restaurants. It also upgraded exterior lighting and revitalized landscaping with new trees and plantings.


Project: New Exterior Walkways, Landscaping, Lighting; Reconfigured Terminal Roads

Location: El Paso (TX) Int’l Airport

Cost: $11 million

Funding: Airport enterprise funds

Project Designer: Meridian Green Works LLC

Contractor: Jordan Foster Construction

Public Art: Programmable colored LED light display

Notable Features: Public plaza around statue at airport entrance; marked walking/running paths; outdoor fitness equipment

“The guiding principle was to create an airport neighborhood,” explains Brooks. A big part of the transformation was constructing a 1,000-foot-long, 20-foot-wide paved walkway that leads from the front door of the terminal to a 36-foot-tall bronze equestrian statue at the entrance of the airport property.

Previously, the statue was surrounded by rocks, limited plantings and a small adjacent parking lot. The airport made the area more inviting and accessible by creating a large paved plaza with seating and more landscaping features. The tree-lined walkway that leads to the new plaza cuts through ELP’s short-term parking lot to encourage airport customers to visit the plaza. Trees and the grounds have LED lights that can be programmed to display different color themes depending on the season.

H. Wayne Cooper, president of Meridian Green Works LLC, says the project links the terminal with the equestrian plaza and encourages walkability. “There really wasn’t a well-defined pedestrian corridor from the terminal to the equestrian plaza,” Cooper says. “We wanted to make a visual connection between those destinations.”

Overall, the design team sought to unify ELP’s property. “The airport landscape had been random in nature,” he explains. “Over the years, different things had been added here and there. Our goal was to have a continuous theme.”

Sidewalks were created off the plaza, leading to nearby restaurants and some of the seven on-airport hotels. The existing road that runs alongside the plaza was renovated to include a landscaped median that encourages people to drive a little slower. “We cleaned it up and made it more refined and more orderly,” says Cooper.

New push-button control signals were installed at crossways for pedestrian safety.

Lights & Landscaping 

Now, the property has a natural flow, reports Cooper. The design starts when motorists approach the airport and travel through an underpass called the “El Paso Passage,” a public art installation with programmable color-changing lights.

“The light system, designed by artist Bill FitzGibbons, is very impressive,” says Brooks. “It’s always running different themes. For example, it has a beating heart for Valentine’s Day and floating ghosts for Halloween.”

As motorists get closer to the airport, the landscape gradually centers on the large equestrian statute. “We opened that up into a big public plaza, and now it’s a destination for people,” says Cooper.

Landscaping designers selected native drought-tolerant trees and bushes that will withstand the Texas sunshine and heat with minimal support from a drip water irrigation system. Individual plants and ground cover varieties have different blooming seasons to provide color throughout the year.

“We wanted to make it really lush and full right off the bat,” Cooper says.

The roadway in front of the terminal was also improved. Previously, taxis, shuttle buses and city buses all loaded and unloaded from a center median. “But it was too narrow, and the space got more and more crowded,” notes Brooks.

To relieve that congestion, the airport added two “in and out” slip lanes off the lane farthest from the terminal for taxis and shuttle buses. “The vehicles can enter the slip lane, load and then go back out again. It allows for safer loading of passengers,” Brooks explains. The inner median has “a comfortable 10-foot width” for city buses and ride share vehicles.

White fabric canopies equipped with LED lights provide shade and decorative appeal at the passenger drop-off and loading areas.

Like the other new lighting, the canopy LEDs are programmable. “At night, visitors will see color when they are outside the terminal,” she notes.

Fitness Features

The airport is also supporting Move El Paso, the city’s public health initiative that highlights walking trails and promotes daily walking as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. “We’re doing our part by establishing walking/running paths around the property—small, medium and large loops each identified by medallions in the ground,” explains Brooks. “Since everything starts at the statue, we will be placing signage there identifying the paths.”

A small area with stationary fitness equipment such as a balance beam, ab crunch machine, overhead ladder and a chin-up bar will also be installed for outdoor exercise.

Brooks reports that ELP is pleased with the neighborhood feel created by the fitness features and exterior renovations. “The airport is often the first experience people have when visiting a city,” she says. “And we want that first impression to be a good one for people who arrive at the El Paso Airport. We want it to have a ‘wow’ factor. All the lights and new plantings will help provide that. It’s about connectivity.

“The wide sidewalks will make it easier for our passengers to get from one place to another. We really want people who are staying at the airport hotels to have access to surrounding things to do. And the experience at El Paso now includes a visually stimulating landscape and walkable streetscape that provides an image of economic growth and development.”

Changes Inside & Out

Recent and ongoing exterior changes come more than a year after the airport installed a 16-foot digital “touch wall” inside the terminal. The 18-monitor display allows users to access information about activities, restaurants and events to enjoy while visiting the area.

Between the digital touchscreen inside and the landscaping and traffic improvements outside, ELP is investing to give passengers a positive impression of El Paso right after they land.


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