Metropolitan Planning Organization

An Opinion Editorial: The El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) RMS-MTP Draft Plan

By Miguel Juárez

For years, we were told that impending changes for Interstate 10 were merely concepts. With the availability of funding, officials are closer to having these concepts become realities. 

Agenda Item #2 at the Friday, September 17th meeting of the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) seeks to “discuss and approve the Regional Mobility Strategy (RMS) 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) with Financially Constrained Project List including Sunland Park Port of Entry and connecting roadways.”  The draft project list is described as “constrained” because the MPO does not have all the funds needed to support each of the projects. Some of the proposed projects may take more funds than others which means that some of the projects on the list will have to wait.  The Excel file planning document is titled “RMS 2050 MTP Project List, TX Highway and Roadway (FHWA and Local Funds.”

The RMS-MTP Draft Plan contains projects the organization seeks to undertake for the next 50 years.  Fresh off the printer, the document was updated and printed on September 15, 2021. After the MPO body discusses and approves the project list it will then ask their staff to begin the arduous process of strategizing what can be funded and what projects might have to wait or perhaps never see the light of day?

To learn more about the MPO go to: https://www.elpasompo.org/AboutUs

Simply put, the MPO seeks to coordinate transportation projects in the region. Cities, towns and villages which belong to the MPO in West Texas, include: the City of El Paso; the City of Socorro; the County of El Paso; the Town of Anthony; the Town of Clint; the Town of Horizon City; the Town of San Elizario and the Village of Vinton.  In Southern New Mexico, cities and towns included are: the City of Anthony; the City of Sunland Park; Dona Ana County; and Otero County.

Members of the MPO include:

1.  Lina Ortega(Chair)TX State Representative77th District
2. Walter Miller(V-Chair)Alderman 1Town of Horizon
3. Claudia Ordaz-PerezTX State Representative76th District 
4. Manuel Leos MayorVillage of Vinton  
5. Cissy LizarragaCity RepresentativeDistrict 8 
6. Ricardo Samaniego JudgeEl Paso County  
7. Yvette HernandezGrant Funded Program DirectorCOEP 
8. Cassandra HernandezCity RepresentativeDistrict 3 
9. Tommy GonzalezCity ManagerCity of El Paso 
10. Norma PalaciosPublic Works DirectorCounty of El Paso 
11. Antonio AraujoMayorCity of San Elizario 
12. Henry RiveraCity RepresentativeDistrict 7 
13. Tomas TrevinoDistrict EngineerTXDOTEl Paso
14. Iliana HolguinEl Paso County CommissionerPrecinct 3 
15. Sam Rodriguez Director of AviationEP International Airport  
16. Oscar Leeser MayorCity of El Paso  
17. Ivy AvalosMayorCity of Socorro 
18. Ellen Smyth DirectorMass Transit-Sun Metro  
19. Joe MoodyTX State Representative78th District 
20. César BlancoTX State Senator  
21. Art FierroTX State Representative79th District 
22. Mary E. GonzalezTX State Representative75th District 
23. Javier PereaMayorSunland ParkNM
24. Trent DoolittleDistrict EngineerNMDOT 
25. Chuck McMahonDoña Ana County Assist.Manager of Operations 
26. Diana TrujilloMayoAnthonyNM
Source: El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization

The plan strives to fund all the projects on their spreadsheet, but while  some projects will be funded, others may inevitably be postponed.  The prioritization process has already begun. Recently, on social media, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar announced the renaissance of downtown El Paso by posting a screenshot of a meeting which occurred on September 8th with politicians, federal highway representatives and stakeholders present. 

Pictured in the meeting shared on Facebook were from Top left to right: MPO Director Eduardo Calvo; Congresswoman Veronica Escobar; and City Manager Tommy Gonzalez. Middle row from left to right: State Representative Lina Ortega; former TxDOT Commissioner Ted Houghton; Tracey J. Yellen, Chief Executive Officer of the Paso del Norte Community Foundation; and Senator Cesar Blanco. Bottom row, from left to right: Allison Rusnak, Director, Office of Legislative Affairs & Policy Communications (FHWA); former City Representative and former mayoral candidate Steve Ortega; Thomas D. Everett, Executive Director of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); and Al Alonzi, Division Administrator, (FHWA) Texas Division.

Widening of Interstate 10

Several interesting projects are included in the wish list.  For starters, there’s the widening of Interstate 10.  Boosters and lobbyists need to widen I-10 so they can then build a deck park in downtown El Paso.  The effort even has its own foundation: https://www.downtowndeckplaza.org/

The widening of I-10 is listed on the RMS-MTP Plan as:

CSJ: 2121-02-166
Project ID: 1063X – CAP
Project Name: Downtown 10 Executive Center to SL478 Copia Segment 2
Project Description: Add 1 Lane Each Direct; Add 1 Adaptive/Transit Lane Each Direction; Add Frontage Roads Each Direction; Ramp and Operational Improvement, and Bike Path
From: Executive Center
To: SL 478 (COPIA ST.)
Network: 2032
Current Construction Cost/2021-2050 Cost: $616,856, 293
Estimated Construction Cost/YOE Cost: $750,500,000
Estimated PE Cost: $36,744,500
Estimated Right-of-Way Cost: $0
Total Project Cost/YOE (Includes Inflation): $787,274,500
Sponsor: TxDOT
YOE (FY): 2027
Source: Regional Mobility Strategy (RMS) 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) Draft

Project “1063X – CAP” is the widening of I-10 from Executive Center Boulevard to Copia Street. We are not sure if CAP is humor for the deck park? We wonder why this project is being fast-tracked while the Section 106 review process of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, hasn’t been completed? 

The current construction cost for the widening of I-10 is estimated at: $616,856, 293, with an estimated construction cost of: $750,500,000.  Part of the cost of the widening of I-10 might be paid for by the Surface Transportation Act of 2021, passed on May 26th by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) and another part may come from the $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill (passed September 7th).

An important detail is needed. If the I-10 Widening Project will add two additional lanes in each direction; frontage roads in each direction; ramp and operational improvements, and a bike path, how much space will the widened I-10 need given TxDOT states on the MPO Plan that they are not spending any funds for Right-of-Way (to acquire property for the expansion along I-10 from Executive Center to Copia Street).

Source: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Coincidentally, the sliver of property (see above) TxDOT needs to expand north and acquire additional space to widen the freeway was property that was redlined in the 1930s as part the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC), where local Savings and Loans Bank Representatives went around evaluating properties based on race. Because African Americans lived in the sliver, HOLC representatives devalued or “redlined” the area north of present-day I-10 from Downtown El Paso to Copia Street.  Translation: because African Americans lived in that sliver, properties were automatically devalued and lived with that stigma for generations.  Typically, in the United States, property acts as an asset and its value to passed down generation to generation, with each generation inheriting land at a higher value.  Because property in the sliver was redlined, it was devalued.

Routing the El Paso Streetcar to the MCA

If the El Paso Streetcars were making money, I would see spending over $136 million dollars to lay down track and have it end up at the MCA, but they are not. 

Project ID: “T305-CAP-2” is the Streetcar Phase II. It seeks to extend the route of the streetcar to the Medical Center of the Americas (MCA), the Texas Tech Medical Center and the Foster School of Medicine.  The streetcar will end at Alameda at Colfax.  But maybe it won’t just be a streetcar pit stop, but a complex, perhaps anchored by a streetcar-inspired shopping mall or hotel? 

Routing the El Paso Streetcar to the MCA is listed on the RMS-MTP Plan as:

CSJ: Not Listed
Project ID: T305-CAP-2
Project Name: Design and Construction for Streetcar Phase II – Service to MCA
Project Description: Design & Construction planning, specifications & construction for extending streetcar route to MCA, Texas Tech, Foster School area.
From: Downtown Terminal – Santa Fe
To: Alameda at Colfax
Network: 2050
Current Construction Cost/2021-2050 Cost: $136,124,473
Estimated Construction Cost/YOE Cost: $355,508,104
Estimated PE Cost (includes inflation): $16,439,897
Estimated Right-of-Way Cost: $0
Total Project Cost/YOE (Includes Inflation): $351,948,002
Sponsor: SUN METRO TRANSIT
YOE (FY): 2041
Source: Regional Mobility Strategy (RMS) 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) Draft

On the 200 block of Colfax Street there used to be a mural of La Virgen de Guadalupe (mural #148 on page 102 in my book Colors on Desert Walls: the Murals of El Paso (1997, Texas Western Press) at the former Summit Fashions building at 220 Colfax Street, painted in 1982-83 by artists known as Santos, El Smiley, and El Robe.  The mural was coordinated by Chevo Quiroga from Aliviane and sponsored in part by Joe Shamaley.  Many of the homes and businesses north of Alameda at Colfax have moved out due to the continuing process of gentrification in the neighborhood. After the streetcar terminal is built, I imagine Colfax Street will be renamed just like Concepcion Street was renamed north of Alameda.

In this item Right-of-Way (ROW) is also zero which may be a ploy not to alarm citizens who may fear eminent domain shenanigans or perhaps investors have already acquired the properties or maybe the City of El Paso has already purchased them for Sun Metro. 

In the days before Interstate 10 and other freeways people use to live close to where they worked, but highways and the creation of suburbs changed that.  Interstate 10 killed downtown El Paso and the Chamber and the Downtown Management District has been trying to make downtown the center of our universe for decades, but failing miserably. Perhaps with the widening of Interstate 10, downtown El Paso will finally turn a corner?

I think with the impending federal infrastructure funding, local decision makers solicited ideas among their networks and one of their “great ideas,” was “why not run the empty streetcars to the Medical Center of the Americas to the tune of the current construction cost of: $136,124,473, with an estimated construction cost of $355,508,104? Can you imagine spending $355+ million dollars to run the streetcar to the MCA? What would be the desired effect? Who will benefit from the streetcars traveling to the MCA? We will have to ask those streetcar riders 20 years from now.  In closing, did anyone ask the neighborhoods around the MCA what they wanted? What kinds of transportation projects would have benefited them?  I seriously doubt it.

To watch the livestream or the recording the meeting go to: https://livestream.com/accounts/3650970/events/9848482