Widening the I-10 Trench

Did you see this op-ed in the El Paso Times by Sito Negron?

You may have heard about the I-10 Trench project proposed by the Texas Department of Transportation. Part of the Reimagine I-10 study series, this piece in and around Downtown might be the largest transportation project ever in El Paso, at a cost of more than $1 billion. The project proposes to:

• Widen the “Trench” (the sunken portion of Interstate 10 that passes through Downtown), replace the surface, and create adjacent access roads, which will require taking property, some historic, between Yandell Drive and I-10.

• Reconfigure the on- and off-ramps to Downtown and widen the I-10 approaches to the Trench, starting from the east around the Spaghetti Bowl and west around Executive Center Boulevard.

• Remove the bridges that connect to the community north of Downtown, and replace them with two larger bridges.

• Reconfigure the streets — such as Mesa, Kansas, Oregon and others — that connect the community north of I-10 to Downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods.

The project would rival and perhaps exceed the Border West Expressway in scope, complexity and impact. Reconstruction of I-10 from Dallas Street to Executive will clog I-10 traffic for years, change the face of Downtown, and alter how the city — especially neighborhoods of the urban core, from Mission Hills to Kern Place to Rio Grande to Five Points — connects to Downtown.

This presents an opportunity. If the Trench is covered, it becomes a tunnel. The top, or cap, becomes usable space that reconnects Downtown to the neighborhoods north of it. Elsewhere, such as in Dallas, the cap is a park. The catch is, it has to be paid for locally, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hundreds of millions of dollars and hours of aggravation and lost productivity as we wait in long lines of traffic.

This project also contemplates removal, which is concerning. We want to restore urban fabric, not further rend it. But the proposal calls for taking two apartment buildings, at least one of which is historic — the iconic Pearl Apartments, with the Sunset Heights mural adding vibrancy and color for thousands of travelers daily; the Holocaust Museum; and the rest of the row of properties along Yandell adjacent to the Trench.

The project contemplates taking the whole southside of Yandell through downtown, including the sports fields at St. Clement’s school, and turning Yandell into a freeway access road.

And for what, exactly?

El Paso’s population has pretty much flatlined since 2012. The numbers used in TXDot’s traffic studies were all compiled in 2012, back when the city had a pulse.

(From 2010 to 2012, El Paso’s population grew by 3.5 percent, fueled by the expansion at Ft. Bliss and a migration of people from Juarez fleeing the violence. From 2012 to 2017, El Paso’s population grew by only 1.5 percent, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.)

And there are other reasons to think that we’re getting ready for a party that’s not going to happen.

Smart self-driving cars and trucks will be able to communicate with each other, and anticipate the need to slow down. That will reduce the distance necessary between vehicles, and the need for new highways.

Those guys at TXDot are experts at building roads. That’s their job. They’re not going to talk themselves out of work, and budget, by suggesting maybe we don’t need another highway.

If you’re only tool is a hammer, then every problem is going to look like a nail.

The future is dynamic and a billion bucks is a billion bucks. We are already expanding El Paso’s highway capacity with the Go 10 project. Once the money is allocated for widening the trench and capping the freeway, there’s no dodging that bullet. We’re stuck with it, like it or not.

3 comments

  1. I have to agree with you, Richie. Our downtown remains stagnant after about fifty years of decline. The total enrollment for EPISD is declining, and there is certainly no particular business that we all need to access in that area. Not that many local residents. So, what the hell is the point? To make it easier to access the trolley to and from nowhere? With parking where, again? No, thanks.

  2. Wow, El Paso was a laid-back City, how is it that all these City officials, the Texas Department of Transportation and their contractors , our City Representatives are able to ethically or morally do this without a vote or a public opinion. We as a City, a a small City at that, don’t need all these upgrades, there is only so far to go especially West. There’s too many crooked people in this freaking town and we need to stop this because this is out of hand like that new swimming place over on the West Side there’s no drainage there’s nobody to go in there and clean it they spent over $1000000 building this damn place and it’s a mess. And that’s supposed to be the cities responsibility. This is disgusting it’s outlandish tearing down iconic buildings and the the Holocaust building The Old Mill Asarco apartments downtown and this is just and we don’t have no vote on this who what gives them the right to do this? It’s an experiment just like the experiment they did with the roundabouts over there by Fox Plaza they all voted no we don’t want this done they went and did it anyway everybody hates it just been more accidents there in that little area than there was before it was built now we got one of our own BETO THE WETO WHO wants to go ahead and tear down the wall if he can oh I can go on and on and on I’m disgusted with this town I’m so sad about it this is not Dallas this is not Houston this is not Phoenix this is not Atlanta we are a small Border town and yes we do have our issues with drug running and blah blah blah but I think that’s for your personal thing to go ahead and research on your own. But this is a major deal that’s they’re going to kill us here they’re going to kill the economy they’re going to kill all of us as far as not being able to get to work your business is going to get shut down because this is going to take another 20 years to do. I’m going to leave it at that all I can say is come on El Paso stand up let’s not let this happen let’s get these people off the freaking board of directors or whoever or whatever is going on let’s stop this because this is dumb

  3. So, it is important to keep in mind that TxDOT doesn’t really care that much about what our population numbers are doing. Overall, they’ve got data that covers the entire life of I-10 to date (or up to say a year like 2012). Based on those numbers they can project what they somewhat anticipate what the need will be over the next 40-50 years. Right now, I-10 in the downtown area is physically in really bad shape and it has to get rebuilt. That’s a major part of the reason why the Border Highway West and Go-10 projects were funded and built more or less at the same time. If they have to take chunks of I-10 off line for construction there will be a new alternative route. They don’t really care if construction causes traffic and headaches for those of us who live downtown, they care that traffic has alternate routes that can help mitigate the construction headaches.

    Yes, self driving cars and other new technology might make a huge impact on how much traffic can use any given highway (much like gas prices dropped massively when fracking became so popular in the US and Canada), but there is no guarantee that any of that technology will actually materialize or that it will be cost effective and safe enough to make a difference. We might have the technology but laws might be changed to prohibit people from relying on it due to fear of runaway robotic cars. We might never figure it out well enough to rely on it. That’s why the projections used rely on whats been happening for the last many many years in order to extrapolate what is likely to happen for the next many years.

    So basically, TxDOT has data to justify rebuilding and probably expanding I-10 to some amount in order to accommodate TRAFFIC growth over the next 50 years or so and they aren’t going to assume that there will be a major shift in self-driving cars (or flying cars or teleportation etc). Whether you believe the math or not, it’s there and it’s what the state uses to make these decisions and it doesn’t matter what you think is going on with our population numbers.

    So that pretty much means that we have two choices. Be apathetic like usual and TxDOT is likely to spend as little money as possible to build what they think will be needed for the next many years, or engage in the process and ask them to make sure that whatever size of I-10 they decide to build fits nicely into downtown. Personally I hope that they do put I-10 in a tunnel and build a park over it. That would be an awesome use of the space and it would be a positive change for downtown. Unfortunately I worry that too many people will do what you’re kind of doing and gripe about how it’s a waste to do anything (i.e. focus on an option TxDOT isn’t seriously considering) and dilute our collective voices.

    In that regard it’s not unlike the streetcars. Lots of people griped about how they were a waste and weren’t needed but TxDOT wasn’t going to not build them and they weren’t going to just give us the money to use however we wanted so having those discussions was a waste of time and energy and it distracted from possible real alternatives.

    As TxDOT moves forward with the I-10 stuff we need to emphasize that we want option x out of the viable options instead of focusing on how we don’t want to do anything. A good example for how that can work in our favor is the Lincoln Center. The folks involved in that stuck to the overall idea that they didn’t want it torn down so they pushed away from the options that involved tearing it down (instead of trying to fight the project happening at all) and ultimately they saved it and TxDOT is still going to expand the spaghetti bowl.

    TxDOT is going to do something to I-10 and they have actual engineers to back up the need for it. People need to focus on getting the best possible outcome from that eventual project instead of complaining that it isn’t needed because no one is going to listen to your engineering opinion, but they might listen to us telling them what we need in our downtown in order to make it more vibrant and attractive to the community.

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