Thursday, March 17, 2011

TXDOT to El Paso: "My Way or the Highway"

TXDOT says we have two choices. We can take their $85 million and build a four lane freeway with two lanes of frontage on each side and four overpasses running up side the mountain. Or we can doom our citizens to a safety hazard of a road because if we don't like their idea they are sending the money back to Austin.

The El Paso Times says that development along the proposed Transmountain freeway is inevitable. Nothing we can do about it but sit idly by and let it happen.

The freeway is inevitable and crappy freeway development and suburban sprawl up the side of our moutain is inevitable.

Or is it? It is if we make decisions as a community and a City Council under coercion from TXDOT. It is if we accept false choices.

Is that the way to build a great city?
But if we want different choices, we need to take the time to demand other choices. And we don't have much time. TXDOT has opened up their public comment period, and they need to hear from you by April 1.

So what are other choices? First we need to know what the problem is.

The biggest problem that needs to be resolved is a saftey issue. Right now, two lanes of roadway going west transition abruptly into one lane. Turning movements on and off of Transmountain West are perilous. Also as land develops close to I-10, there are property owners with unlimited access to the Transmountain presenting a potential hazard if they decide to build driveways onto the main lanes of traffic wherever they choose.

The other problem is that the one lane in each direction on the West side of the mountain is not enough capacity for the cars using that road today, leading to delays, congestion and some aggressive driving.

So we need to solve the safety issue, and we need to expand the capacity of the roadway.

Is the freeway the only road type that does this? No.

A boulevard is an option that TXDOT modeled as an alternative to the freeway in their Environmental Assessment. A boulevard has features similar to a freeway in that there is limited access to the main through lanes. These through lanes are mostly for regional trips. The boulevard also features local roads alongside it to accomodate local traffic movements, similar to frontage roads but slower, less wide and safer and more comfortable for pedestrians and bicyclists (see rendering of a Transmountain boulevard below). The biggest difference between the boulevard and the freeway is that a boulevard doesn't have grade seperated overpasses and instead handles traffic through managed intersections. A boulevard could fit into the existing 200 feet of TXDOT right of way, whereas the proposed freeway will be 370 feet wide. (The current roadway is about 40 feet wide.)

TXDOT threw this out as an option primarily because they didn't think it had enough capacity to handle the projected volumes of traffic. The problem is that they used outdated information to make their case. TXDOT indicated that the current traffic volumes on Transmountain today is 17,000 cars per day. TXDOT estimated that in 2015 when the project is completed the car volume would increase to 40,000, a 57% increase in traffic volumes. TXDOT estimates that in 2035 the car trips per day would increase to 71,000. Problem is that the latest and greatest numbers show that only 18,000 cars will make this trip in 2020 and only 31,000 in 2035. Using the new numbers, the most recently adopted numbers, a boulevard holds up very well.

A boulevard also handles many of the safety concerns by eliminating the transition at high speeds from two lanes to one lane. Since it features local road alongside it, it resolves the issue of property owners building driveways directly onto the main lanes. In addition, pedestrians and bicyclists would feel safer and be safer walking or pedaling next to slow traffic on local roads rather than on fast traffic moving on frontage roads. When is the last time you thought to yourself that you would like to take a walk on frontage roads next to I10?

So the boulevard is a choice. Not TXDOT's choice, but a choice for resolving our mobility and safety issues in that area. What is your choice?

Another choice offered up by a group of determined El Pasoans is to let them have their freeway but to minimize the environmental impact by not building the last overpass closest to the mountain and to preserve the 900 acres of Public Service Board land that straddles that section of Transmountain. Their goal is to keep Transmountain scenic in the areas that the public has control over. That land is owned by the City of El Paso and there is nothing inevitable about it having to be developed. The public, you and I, can make a choice not to develop that section because it is more valuable to us as open space than it is as freeway development. If that last overpass closest to the State Park is built, it will set in place the line of development for all of the land north of it to the State line. Not building that overpass will create a pattern where most of the develop occurs closer to I-10.

So demand a choice. El Paso deserves real choices. Here's how:

Do we want TXDOT to build our City? Or are we going to do the hard work of building our city, guided by our own values and priorities? It is our choice.


Anonymous said...

Who's paying for the boulevard and all those trees? What's your proposed funding source? How much will it cost? What's the timeline for completion?

Juanito Hayburg said...

WE are paying for the boulevard, landscaping, all of it; WE are the ultimate funding source! I endorse the boulevard. I also know that we MUST conserve our mountains against untrammeled commercial/residential development and believe that the Western Boundary of Tom Mays/Franklin Mountains State Park should be extended North to the state line and beyond; that the boundary on the East side should be similarly extended. Additionally, the entire region, between Organ PassNM and Murchison ParkTX should become a project of the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, National Park Service [; marta_newkirk_de_la_garza;;]. Such designation will help with funding, management, and national/international recognition, making our "Hidden Gem of the World" less hidden and more attractive!--John Eyberg aka Juanito Hayburg aka BIKERJOHN

Charles said...

A boulevard will only contribute to driver fustration with added traffic lights and the real possibility of more pedestrian accidents. As it stands now, very few of our traffic lights work to make it pleasant experience to drive down Montana or Mesa or any of the other boulevards in our city. Do we really have a traffic engineer?

Anonymous said...

I would imagine that TXDOT can do whatever it wants to do with its money. Your premise is that you know better than TXDOT when it comes to Texas highways. If that's the case then resign from city council and become head of TXDOT. What, exactly, is it that you propose? I don't see anything but some vague reference to building a boulevard. Why don't you put it to a vote and see if El Paso wants to pay for your boulevard?

Anonymous said...

I would love the boulevard alternative, it will give this area a fresh look, create safer roadways and allow people to feel comfortable walking/cycling along transmountain. It pleases everyone! And, we can also make sure that the land close to the mountain is still preserved, no need for development up there. Those for the growth, and widening of the road are also made happy that they are offered safer driving space and relieves congestion at rush hours. It will provide a pleasant feel to the neighborhood, whereas the freeway option looks horrible, unsafe and scary! Thank you Susie!

Anonymous said...

Where are you getting these "latest and greatest numbers" that say that vehicle volume will only increase to 18,000 vehicles by 2020? I'm curious to know where that number came from and how it was calculated. Just because a statistic supports your point of view doesn't necessarily make it the most credible.