El Paso County moves forward with Aguilera Highway plans

El Paso County moves forward with Aguilera Highway plans

EL PASO, Texas - El Paso County will likely use funds from the 2012 bond project, and potentially vehicle registration fees, to fund phase two of the Manuel Aguilera Highway that will connect I-0 to Alameda Avenue, part of the comprehensive mobility plan.

Officials said phase two of the project will cost about $17 million. The new Tornillo-Guadalupe port of entry will include a tollway -- unlike the current Fabens-Caseta international bridge.

"It could very well turn out to be a very good source for revenue for the county," said Precinct Three Commissioner Sergio Lewis.

Rhe county might purchase its own toll equipment and enforce the fees itself. It could also hire a contractor to collect the tolls -- and design, install and maintain the equipment.

"If the county's getting ready to go out and purchase tolling equipment, shouldn't they be looking at potentially concessioning it out," said Raymond Telles of the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority. "So that a private contractor could propose a bid to them and say we'll provide the tolling equipment, we'll operate and maintain the system, and this is what it will cost you."

Ernie Carrizal of the county Public Works Department said the county is looking for someone to appraise the roughly 130 acres of land needed for the project. It also needs a biologist to train crews to protect the threatened horny toad during construction.

"We still want to follow the federal process, and in order to follow the federal process, we have to do an environmental assessment," Carrizal said. "We've been working on the environmental assessment for about a year. I've been sending preliminary copies to Federal Highway. They made they're comments. They've come back with some recommendations -- we've done those."

Officials said the project would create commercial traffic, which could in turn create jobs near the border.

"We've also heard that at the intersection of OT Smith and Interstate 10 right now, that there is a design out there to build truck stops," Carrizal said. "There's even talk of a railhead, yard up there, warehouses. So we know it's coming, it's just a matter of time. I think everybody's just waiting for the bridge to be complete and the traffic to start moving, and then we'll start seeing businesses popping up more and more."

The county is also in the process of planning to demolish the Fabens-Caseta bridge and is working on producing the bridge's historical documentation, as required by the state Historical Preservation Office. County officials hope the project will be complete by late 2015.

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