EL PASO, Texas - The Border Highway Loop 375 extension west project has yet to break ground, but already grumbles can be heard.
A petition has begun to circulate among business owners, and those who frequent the downtown shopping district, to create an additional entrance to the project. There appears to be a concern that a lack of traffic flow between the proposed project and downtown could stymie recent growth for businesses bordering Mexico in the southern section of downtown.
"If we're talking about downtown and the future revitalization of downtown, a new arena, a new stadium," said El Paso County Commissioner Sergio Lewis, "then people are going to need entrances. To me, two entrances makes a whole lot of sense."
Lewis believes that a discussion should continue, and with the information he's heard so far he thinks more traffic flow on and off the new loop extension makes sense.
"Instead of closing it off, we should open it up to opportunity."
Not everyone thinks an entrance onto the loop extension is a grand idea. Cortney Niland, who represents the area on City Council, said talks will continue. She said concerns have been raised by members of the Central Business Association, but nothing has been set in stone.
However, at this point she concedes that city staff is of the belief that an entrance on Oregon Street would be more trouble than good.
"It causes weaving problems," said Niland, pointing out issues that have arisen about how traffic would move on the new highway. "Number two, it impacts traffic flow with the trolley, and three: long term goals. We don't know if it will support traffic flow patterns given new investments we're looking at making downtown."
Niland said she's been a staunch supporter of downtown businesses and anything that will revitalize the area. However, she said the city must look at what will benefit the city as a whole, not just one area.
Despite all of that, Niland said they are still open to looking at the situation further.
"At the end of the day, we have the difficult job of making a decision that's best for everyone and not just one group," said Niland.
Lewis argues that what is best for the city is what is best for downtown El Paso. He's pitched ideas for more development in the area, even creating a little Mexico in downtown near the areas in question. He said the development of roads leading to and coming from the future loop extension wouldn't only play into traffic patterns but bi-national relations, pointing out that the loop would be in the vicinity of the border crossings in downtown El Paso.
"It's not only critical, but pivotal that we should be considering this," said Lewis.
Ultimately, it's Lewis' belief that the city of El Paso will have a final say in the project. The Texas Department of Transportation is funding the project, but has been in detailed talks with the city. Niland said that staff members from the city are working closely with TXDOT now to determine what traffic patterns would look like if Oregon Street was added to the project.
According to TXDOT, all options remain on the table. More reaction to the downtown access questions that arose during previous comment sessions with the community are expected by mid-January, according to their spokesperson.
In the meantime, it appears that the discussion will continue among those who hold a stake in the future of downtown El Paso.
For more details on the TXDOT project, visit: http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/projects/studies/el-paso/border-highway-west.html