ONLY ON ABC-7: The need for a new ramp

TX-DOT presents its preliminary plans that call for the demolition of the Lincoln Center

ONLY ON ABC-7: The need for a new ramp

EL PASO, Texas - There's been an uproar over saving the Lincoln Recreation Center.

But something that hasn't been discussed as much is why the Texas Department of Transportation wants to tear down the building at 4001 Durazno Street for a ramp linking I-10 to U.S. 54 and ultimately to Loop 375.

ABC-7 sat down with TX-DOT's district engineer in an exclusive one-on-one and went over the blueprints.

The plan is in the very early stages, but the thought process behind this ramp has been years in the making.

And the plans don't simply circulate around the Spaghetti Bowl on I-10.

TX-DOT said it really begins on Gateway South Boulevard and Paisano Drive, where one Thursday evening during rush hour, no one was rushing anywhere. Drivers looking to avoid I-10 traffic and access Loop 375 east are met with backup more than a dozen vehicles deep at the intersection. This particular evening, the light changed from green to red four times while vehicles seemingly only moved inches at a time.

"I have no idea what this is all about. I'm trying to get to a community service thing, and I've been in line here waiting," said one driver to ABC-7.

The traffic is so bad -- El Paso police officers are trying to help guide the flow by directing traffic. Officers said this is the regular routine every Thursday and Friday.

"Man, I'm just waiting to get out of here. It's pretty bad to be in this situation, especially in this heat. But what can we do about it? It's El Paso," another driver told ABC-7.

TX-DOT district engineer Bob Bielek told ABC-7 TX-DOT is trying to do something about it.

It's called the I-10/Loop 375 interchange.

Bielek told ABC-7 there are actually 13 diagrams, all which call for new ramps, with only slight differences in height and angle.

Bielek said the safest plan calls for two ramps to place drivers on the correct side of the road and eliminate the need to weave across several lanes of traffic in a short distance. It would also separate the traffic needing to get to Loop 375 and Juarez, Mexico, onto different ramps, relieving congestion and I-10 backup. TX-DOT believes the ramp would serve 5,000 to 8,000 drivers a day.

The problem: One of the ramps would slice through the second floor of the Lincoln Center.

TX-DOT owns the property on which the center sits, including the building and the surrounding park. Bielek told ABC-7 the agency bought it from the El Paso school district in 1969 -- the same year I-10 was constructed in El Paso. Bielek said TX-DOT made the purchase with the intent of knocking down the building to make way for more freeway ramps.

Instead, in 1974 TX-DOT agreed to the city's request to not demolish the building and leased it to the city for use as a recreation center.

Forty years later, traffic has clogged I-10 and TX-DOT said there's an urgency to repair the 50-year-old highway.

The agency said that starts with alleviating the traffic congestion in South Central El Paso.

TX-DOT said it has still not presented the plan to the public because it is too early in the process. The agency is still waiting for the Metropolitan Planning Organization to present its Travel Demand Model for approval.

Once that model is accepted, TX-DOT can begin analyzing traffic to pinpoint where the ramp would start on I-10.

The plans would then be presented publicly, according to TX-DOT.

While the traffic analysis may alter where the ramp starts, TX-DOT insists it won't change the direction of the ramp.

This means TX-DOT still believes the Lincoln Center would need to come down.

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