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Home | Opinion | Op-Ed: Cap and Trench-Billion dollar highway project on horizon poses many questions
Courtesy TxDoT

Op-Ed: Cap and Trench-Billion dollar highway project on horizon poses many questions

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 I-10 that passes through Downtown, replace the surface, and create adjacent access roads, which will require taking property, some historic, between Yandell 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.
  • 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 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.

Before I-10 disrupted the city core, El Paso had a traditional hierarchy of urban scale. The tallest buildings – offices and hotels – were clustered in the blocks around a focal point, in this case the Plaza. Further out were apartments, then suburbs.

For example, the San Francisco neighborhood, west of Downtown and south of the highway, is made up mostly of apartment buildings, facing Sunset Heights, one of the city’s original suburbs, on other side of I-10. It’s hard to imagine the scale of removal to make way for I-10, US-54, and other infrastructure in Central El Paso.

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 Trench road surface must be rebuilt, regardless of whether or not the highway is widened.

Providing relief routes around the City – such as I-10 Connect over Lincoln Park, and the Borderland Expressway, formerly known as Northeast Bypass – are essential before the Trench can be addressed.

Decision-makers and stakeholders at the local and state level must ask hard questions about not only the opportunities but also the timeline and need before we carve yet another slice out of the heart of the city. Imagine the effect of years of major closure in the heart of the City?

Would simply resurfacing the Trench be far more cost-effective and faster? Could we cap it without widening and taking properties?

With new technology for vehicles and traffic management on the horizon, we should explore every alternative before committing to a project that will shape the center of the City, and Downtown, for generations.

Frankly, if we’re going to do that, we should ask the question of whether non-local traffic can be rerouted completely, via I-10 Connect and Borderland Expressway, and the highway turned into a boulevard system for local traffic, reclaiming urban space for parks, buildings, and neighborhoods.

That would be visionary, and truly put El Paso on the global map.

TXDOT is doing what it does best, planning a highway project. But we are looking at it as a community project, and do not believe widening I-10 is the only road before us. Every option must be transparently, thoroughly explored.

Author: Sito Negron

Negron is president of the Sunset Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association

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3 comments

  1. Back during the 1969 era I-10 ended at Raynor St and Piedras while the rest of the freeway leading to downtown
    El Paso was under still construction. Then finally in the late spring, the freeway opened up connecting El Paso to the California west coast ending in downtown Los Angeles.
    Fifty years later,TXDOT want’s to Reimagine the downtown freeway sunken portion where the bridges are located. This would make El Paso look something like Dallas Texas, and we are not Dallas by a long shot! bottom line is that TXDOT overlooked El Paso back in the 1960’s.
    My grandparents who use to own acres of farmland on what is now Carolina and North Loop use to tell me that when I would become old. that El Paso might become a large city.
    Well El Paso has grown to become a large city, and I don’t approve of TXDOT filling in the downtown freeway bridge section. Why not instead widen the freeway by building concrete walls in both directions,there is enough room to add two additional lanes going in both directions east and west.
    Going from Campbell to Santa Fe streets vise verse therefore leaving the Holocaust Museum and the Sunset neighborhood untouched. Meaning there would be no tunnel under downtown El Paso,if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

  2. I disagree with the Op-Ed and the comment above. I think capping the downtown bridge section would bring added benefit to our downtown revitalization. Imagine not only having San Jacinto park but another park downtown where people can gather and do things? I think that would be a benefit. People are mad that some old buildings might get knocked down, if that has to happen then so be it. The comment above says “we arent Dallas Texas”, no we truly arent Dallas, cause Dallas is a city that is in support of innovate things and new ideas, El Paso seems to be stuck in the stone age abuelita style of thinking.

    • I do agree with the comment above that El Paso is stuck in the stone age, just think about Max Grossman on how he has manage to delay the construction on the downtown arena.
      I am however in full support of the downtown revitalization process, again we are not Dallas, Dallas is rich and very wealthy and they do have money to support innovative things and new ideas.
      Not El Paso, we do have some rich people living here, but I’ll point out to the WestStar Tower, shouldn’t it have been at least 40 stories tall? And it’s only going to be 18 stories. Just to think that it took almost fifty years to build a new downtown tower that will eclipse the Wells Fargo bank building in height.
      As for more downtown parks, what about using the railroad area east of downtown,with so many train yards in downtown. Or build a nice park behind the houses on Rim Road,that be a great park if the city would use their heads.Or even build a park along side below Rim Road with walking trails that would stretch east of Stanton below Tom Lea Park and past Brown Street. There are many options on where to build nice parks with great views of downtown El Paso and beyond.
      But building a park above the freeway, that’s Dallas style way of thinking, El Pasoans are not utilizing the new electric streetcars. We might end up losing those streetcars if Oscar Leeser becomes the mayor of the city again. Besides that he did not support the implosion of the city hall building to build Southwest University Park stadium.
      If we want to get political about Build El Paso! Ha Ha Ha.

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