A Personal Plea from El Paso
The following blog post comes to CNU via El Paso City Council member Susie Byrd. El Paso has been in the news of late for a series of encouraging developments relating to its built envrionment, including Dover, Kohl & Partners' much-heralded Plan El Paso. Yet as the following illustrates, more work is needed to help El Paso reach its maximum potential and ward off unnecessarily costly and destructive plans to its promising future, such as the potential highway development Byrd details below. CNU is committed to helping causes like Byrd's through both in-house measures and creating conduits for like-minded urbanists to share their resources. Read the full story below:
I’m a City Council Representative in El Paso, Texas. The first thing you will notice when you get here is the Franklin Mountains, a large mountain range that run through the center of our city. It is the largest urban park in the nation. It defines us. Generations of El Pasoan have fought to protect the mountain.
We have a new challenge: a proposed freeway loop that cuts through the mountain. Currently, there is the scenic Transmountain road that runs through the mountain, but on the west side of the mountain, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) is proposing to turn the 40 foot wide road into a 370 foot wide freeway with four overpasses running up side the mountain. This, of course, will set the stage for freeway development and suburban sprawl on thousands of acres of land that are currently publicly owned and could be preserved.
El Paso has a bit of a complex. We’ve been ignored by the State of Texas, haven’t received our fair share of transportation funding for decades. We’ve fought hard to get our fair share, and it is finally pouring in. The mantra driving this project is that every other large city in Texas has a freeway loop, and by God, we want our own. We deserve it. We are tired of being left behind.
TXDOT has pulled in $85 million for this 3.64 mile project, and every time an objection is raised about the design or the road type, we are told that we can either build it their way or we will lose the money. The City Council that I am a part of would normally seriously consider other options like a boulevard or at least not building the last overpass as the freeway climbs the mountain, but they have been coerced every step of the way with the threat of loss of funds into doing exactly what TXDOT wants.
TXDOT just released their Environmental Assessment two weeks ago (http://www.elpasotexas.gov/_documents/Loop%20375%20from%20I-10%20to%20FMSP%20EA%20ver%2011%20(Final%20SFP).pdf), and the City Council has about two weeks to finalize our recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration.
So here is where I need your help. TXDOT slipped in the boulevard as an alternative to be considered and quickly discounted it using a Measures of Effectiveness analysis (pages 1 through 23in the Environmental Assessment). They discounted it for mobility using overinflated traffic counts. They said that in 2035 the road would have 71,000 cars per day traveling on it, when the most recent modeling shows only 31,000 car trip per day. This might trip them up some but their come back is that regardless of the mobility issue the freeway will be safer. The only measure for safety that they are using is the number of conflict points. Using this measure, the freeway wins hands down.
I need to make a strong case for the boulevard on mobility and on safety. Where I am stuck is on the safety issue. When traffic engineers wave the safety flag, everyone backs down. Can anyone provide me with some info or studies about other ways of measuring safety that should be considered, the issue of conflict points as a safety measure and any analysis about the safety performance of a boulevard vs. a freeway? The more traffic engineerish it sounds the better.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 915-204-9813.
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