El Paso

TxDOT gives up on the trees along Transmountain Road after two plantings fail

City of El Paso plans to install irrigation system

EL PASO, Texas - There is a lot of new development happening in northwest El Paso and some argue the city is not keeping pace when it comes to landscaping. 

Rick Bonart often cycles up and down Transmountain Road. He noticed a lot of the trees that have been planted along the roadway have died. 

Bonart told ABC-7 he also saw workers removing dozens of trees on the western side of Transmountain Road between Paseo del Norte and the entrance to Tom Mays Park.

Bonart submitted an open records request to the city of El Paso for plans and agreements for landscape, between TxDOT and the city of El Paso as part of the expansion of Transmountain Road.

TxDOT constructed the Transmountain West project. At the city's request, enhanced landscaping was included in the project.

TxDOT would plant the trees and the City agreed to maintain the landscaping. Bonart said the plans he saw called for nearly 1,500 plants and 423 trees to be planted.

TxDot district engineer Bob Bielek said the idea was to make the area look a little more like what the city requires from developers who develop on areas outside Transmountain Road.

Landscapers soon discovered a problem - a hard one. 

"Landscapers discovered the soil out there is essentially solid rock. So, they were digging in rock, and that became a real problem because there was not enough room for the roots of the larger trees to grow, " Bielek said.

There was another challenge.

"Not enough water pressure to put the water up the hill. TxDOT put in bigger pumps, but the bigger pumps just sucked the water dry because there wasn't enough pressure," Bielek said. "Trees were planted all the way up the hill, and the first planting died. A second planting also died, even though they were hand-watered."

TxDOT decided to put in native landscape. But Bonart still wants to see trees and other plants promised in the original plans.

"Either the city steps in and corrects the situation as soon as possible, and bills TxDOT or gets reimbursed by TxDOT, or  TxDOT does the right thing, steps up and does what they need to do to make it right," Bonart said.

The cost of planting the trees is "chump change" for TxDOT, Bonart said. "These projects they are doing around town are millions and millions of dollars. For them to be so petty about something that is important, that they promised to do, just doesn't seem right," Bonart added.

Bielek argues the issue is also one of safety.

"What the city wanted was a tree every 30 feet.  We did not agree to that, because 30 feet is too close, it creates issues when you have driveways. When you have intersections, you lose sight distance.  So we had trees where trees were appropriate, we put some additional plantings. That was the original plan.  But that changed as we got into what the soil conditions actually were," Bielek said.

TxDOT's two year maintenance agreement has expired, and the responsibility is now that of the City of El Paso.

City officials said the city is working to install an irrigation system and landscaping that will survive, but did not have a timetable.

Ted Marquez, the director of the city's Streets and Maintenance Department said TxDOT has agreed to clean up asphalt pieces, repair some pavement and do weeding in some areas.

The state agency, however, will not be planting trees a third time.

"If you look up that mountain, you won't see a lot of trees up there. And the reason you don't see a lot of trees is Mother Nature says, 'Oh no, you won't either," Bielek said.

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