The El Paso City Council on Monday considered the most significant package of transportation projects in the last decade, which would total well over $1 billion.
Thankfully, council deleted the item. It was a good decision and should be applauded.
Why? Because one of the projects, Segment 2 of Reimagine I-10 – by itself a $1 billion project – would have irreversible consequences for Downtown.
A vote in favor of Segment 2 of Reimagine I-10 as proposed by TxDOT is a vote to take property along a more than six-block stretch of Yandell, including historic and iconic buildings. The Pearl Apartments, with its mural of Sunset Heights, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Sunset Heights is a city-designated historic neighborhood.
The effects on the rest of Sunset Heights, the San Francisco and the Houston Park/Rio Grande neighborhoods will be dramatic. The project calls for widening the freeway and creating high-capacity access roads, which increases the size and intensity of the adjacent roadway and the concurrent noise, vibration and proximity of emissions to the neighborhoods.
The city’s stated policy for more than 10 years has been to become less car-dependent. The award-winning Plan El Paso is a homage to the great 1925 City Plan, which calls for removing the rails from the city center to increase quality of life. Further designing the core of the city as a high-intensity trade corridor to serve interstate truck traffic is in opposition to the spirit of our city plan.
We should focus on removing truck traffic from the heart of the city. Interstate traffic, as much as possible, should go around, not through, the city.
The Sunset Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association agrees rehabilitation of the highway is necessary – there are too many potholes. And in so doing, there may be an opportunity to enhance connectivity between Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.
There is exciting potential to develop unique urban space, facilitate local traffic and reduce the intensity of interstate traffic through the heart of the city. This will preserve historic neighborhoods, enhance quality of life and add value to new development.
Widening the freeway, regardless of how it’s embellished, is antithetical to that ideal, and we can do better.
Sito Negron is president of the Sunset Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association.