EL PASO, Texas - The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) will begin conducting a feasibility study to replace the Wyler Aerial Tramway soon, Texas Senator José Rodriguez tells ABC-7.
Sen. Rodriguez says the feasibility study, which will cost about $100,000, should start by the end of the month or early February and could take up to a year to complete.
“First you have to do the feasibility study to understand what’s needed and the cost,” Rodriguez said.
TPWD announced the closure of the Wyler Aerial Tramway indefinitely last September following an engineering analysis.
“Based on the engineering report, this tramway is obsolete,” Rodriguez said. “We’re not talking about making repairs to the existing one.”
The analysis, conducted by Tramway Engineering, LTD. in Glenwood Springs, CO, found the “risk of a major failure is very high when compared to other aerial installations” and concluded that the tram should not be operated for the public in its current condition. It also states the parts in need of replacement are no longer made.
A New Tramway
Sen. Rodriguez is making it a top priority to get the funding to build a new tramway.
“The tramway is El Paso,” Rodriguez said.
The estimated cost for a compact aerial tram in the engineering analysis is above $7 million.
“Even though the engineering report gives an estimate of around $7 million to $10 million potentially, we understand from TPWD that it could be considerably more than that.”
With the total cost unknown until the completion of the feasibility study, Rodriguez and TPWD are working to find the funding that could ultimately be necessary. The Community Foundation is finalizing an agreement with TPWD to help raise money.
“The Community Foundation has been around for 42 years,” President & CEO Eric Pearson said. “We’re committed long term to making this happen.”
The Community Foundation gifted the Wyler Aerial Tramway to TPWD in 1997. In 2001, the tramway was re-opened to the public after extensive renovations and saw about 45,000 visitors annually.
“This is something that’s unique to all of the world,” Pearson said. “We have a high desert mountain range and we have a tramway that looks out on the desert floor at an adjacent sea. That’s something you can’t find anywhere.”
“I think when you talk to anybody in El Paso, when they have visitors from out of town, one of the sites they take them to is the tramway because it’s the only tramway in the state of Texas,” Sen. Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez described his level of confidence a new tramway will eventually be running in El Paso as “high” and says he is “absolutely convinced”.
Tramway Shutdown Impacts Many
In addition to serving the general public views atop the Franklin Mountains, the Wyler Aerial Tramway’s primary purpose for decades was to access the many transmitters.
ABC-7 Chief Engineer Elias Ventanilla says his team used to take the Wyler Aerial Tramway weekly to access the ABC-7 transmitter, located adjacent to the tramway summit. Since the tramway was closed indefinitely his team has only gone up three times. Access is now limited to a rugged hike that takes roughly one hour each way.
“Taking equipment up there you’re limited to what a person can carry,” Ventanilla said. “Some of [the equipment] can weigh up to 80 to 100 pounds.”
Ventanilla says they can still load some equipment on the tramway, but people are no longer allowed on the tramway under any circumstance.
It’s an issue six local TV stations, government agencies and the city are now faced with, especially if the Wyler Aerial Tramway is demolished for a replacement after the feasibility study.
“It’s a very important tool for us broadcasters,” Ventanilla said. “This impacts our ability to quickly address major issues [including going off the air]. At this point we have to start thinking about a long term plan on how to [get up to the transmitter], how to get equipment up there and what kind of special equipment would be needed to get transmitter equipment up there.”
Long term planning will be necessary. The feasibility study could take up to a year alone before any demolition or construction begins.