Lets not widen our freeways!

We are currently in the midst of TxDOT’s 2nd virtual meeting about the Downtown 10 project – you know, where they want to widen the trench through downtown and turn Yandel (which is a bike route) and Wyoming into high speed, high volume gateways? And where TxDOT proposed a deck park that they said was not part of the project, but added it in to distract us all from how much damage they proposed to do to downtown.

Yeah, THAT project.

Click here for a sample public comment for the Downtown 10 project you can cut & paste

You can comment online at the virtual meeting, or email your comments to Downtow[email protected]

To the TxDOT Planners and engineers,

El Paso does not need a wider freeway, we need better, safer transportation options. By widening the freeway, and turning Yandel, Missouri and Wyoming into high speed, high volume gateways – which are a one size fits all solution to a series of complex needs – you are putting the convenience of motorists before the safety and needs of the surrounding community, and of vulnerable road users such as myself who would prefer to walk, bike, or use transit, but your “viable alternatives” don’t give us those as viable options.

You scored alternative D, G & H high in the multimodal category, despite almost no consideration for transit, and the options (save the pedestrian bridge D) were potentially unsafe, and certainly not what I would consider comfortable to use. The enhanced crossings, wide sidewalks (usually between a high speed U-turn lane and another travel lane), and the shared use paths directly adjacent to the frontage road lanes (with their noise, and air pollution) may look good on paper to someone who does not walk or ride a bike regularly, but those of us who do recognize these as dangerous and uncomfortable. These options you have made for us, are not the kind of design choices we want or would make. First off, being between lanes of traffic is simply unpleasant – the noise, the vibration, the taste and smell of auto emissions, and unpleasant enough – but would you feel safe letting your children or parents walk here? If not, then why think we would want this either?

The shared use paths placed directly adjacent to the high speed frontage roads that your plans propose to turn Yandel, Wyoming and Missouri into are already places we try to avoid, as they are already busy enough – again, why would we want to expose ourselves willingly to that kind of an unpleasant environment? And, most of our travel in this corridor is either away from the kind of traffic you would subject us to when traveling east and west. Meanwhile, the majority of our travel within the corridor is actually north and south – and it is here that we need more, and safer travel options that minimize our risk.

East of Downtown, along the Central core of El Paso, we need safe crossings to get north and south – and right now there are basically none – and the plans you have proposed have essentially overlooked the needs of vulnerable road users along this stretch. Yes, there is that infamous shared use path, now with lots of curb cuts and points of conflict, but where are the “enhanced crossings”? They certainly aren’t here. Nor are the opportunities to travel north and south, except where there is already high speed, high volume traffic.

This is NOT worthy of the “High” score you have given these alternatives. Except that you include heavy trucks in this category, and we can that score is actually reflective of your accommodating these larger vehicles, and not our need for safe, convenient walkable, bikeable and transit friendly transportation options. Nor is this what we need for the future of El Paso.

Any design that prioritizes speed over our safety on our surface streets is unacceptable. I request that more consideration be given to either rebuilding, or the tunnel plane – which you have not allowed us to see or consider – as it might allow us to reconnect the urban grid of our community, and allow for safer, more pleasant transportation options for people who walk, ride bikes or use transit. Also alternatives D, G & H should be rejected for the further damage they will do to my community, and to my ability to travel safely throughout central and downtown El Paso.

In short I ask that:

  • Alternative B, which is reconstruction and scored fourth, and Alternative F, the tunnel/trench extension, must be carried forward for further evaluation. 
  • The direct connection along Prospect St as shown in Alternative D is maintained
  • The street grid in Downtown and along Missouri be preserved for local traffic (vehicular and human powered), not to accommodate regional or national through traffic
  • That Yandell, Missouri and Wyoming streets NOT be turned into high speed frontage roads, as the best way to create safe, walkable and bikeable places is to reduce traffic volumes and speeds.
  • That vulnerable user safety and comfort be prioritized by the elimination of all U-turns in and around the Downtown area, and that safe routes for people be prioritized by the inclusion of safe, comfortable crossings at every intersection, the removal of all slip turns, and that comprehensive street management and vision zero principles be employed.
  • The elevated frontage roads and braided ramps NOT be used as they encourage speed, not safety.
  • The urban fabric be preserved, and additional right of way not be secured to add capacity to the roadways
  • Freight be removed from the multimodal category as what benefits freight vehicles is often what makes streets and roads unsafe for vulnerable road users.
  • The virtual meeting process be revamped to allow for direct interaction with staff and consultants, instead of this passive system that makes it difficult for the public to gain knowledge of the project, save for what TxDOT decides to share.

It’s time to put our safety first for a change (add your name)

Well, it turns out they’ve been proposing similar widening projects all over the state, and in every case, their preferred options focus on WIDENING that freeway, versus working with the local community to find the best solution for that community’s needs (Hint: it’s not widening the freeway!).

So, in “Fighting Freeways” news for the past week, here’s what you might have missed:

Last Monday, the El Paso County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to support Agenda Item #7, a measure to ask staff to make a formal comment to TxDOT about the Downtown 10 project, that includes a recommendation that TxDOT carry forward two of the alternatives – Options B & F – that TxDOT had already dismissed as “non-viable,” noting that we were just getting to see some of these alternatives for the first time during this 2nd virtual meeting.

Option B – reconstruction only, was the 4th best scoring option (and no, they didn’t show us how they determined the scores), and was dismissed after scoring low in mobility (probably meaning because TxDOT wouldn’t get to widen the freeway like they want to).

Option F – the tunnel option, scored low in design (probably because it might be the most expensive option), yet still ranked 5th of the 9 options. This option could potentially reconnect central and downtown El Paso by burying 1-10 from Piedras or Cotton, east of Downtown, to Porfirio Diaz, west of Downtown – we think… Because TxDOT didn’t include any of drawings or maps of the “non-viable” alternatives, so far as we can find, in their virtual public meeting.

It makes you wonder what else they decided not to share.

Then on Thursday, we learned that Harris County had sued TxDOT for ‘putting cars over people’ when Harris County Judge, Lina Line Hidalgo tweeted “Today we sued TxDOT over the misguided I-45 expansion project. There’s a way to address our transit challenges, but more and wider highways is not it. We can’t build a competitive county with transportation policy that hasn’t changed since the 50s.”

Then we also learned the FHWA told TxDOT to put the brakes on the I-45 project too! In its letter to TxDOT, the FHWA said it taking action in response to public input on the state’s project which would widen I-45, and was raising civil rights and environmental concerns as the project would destroy huge parts of nearby minority neighborhoods (not unlike what regularly happened when most freeways were originally built – including here in El Paso).

The federal agency said it alone was responsible for such civil rights complaints, and asked for time to review them. The March 8th letter reads “To allow FHWA to evaluate the serious Title VI concerns raised…we request that TxDot pause before initiating further contract solicitation efforts for the project, including issuance of any Requests for Proposals, until FHWA has completed its review and determined whether any further actions may be necessary to address those concerns.”

According to TxDOT, the project is meant to reduce congestion on I-45 amid a growing population, and reduce commute times. The problem is, they’ve said pretty much the same about every freeway widening project, and every one of these project across the state continue to receive opposition from people worried about noise, air pollution, and further displacement, as these projects all “require” new right-of-way that could result in the destruction of homes and businesses along each of those corridors.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said history shows the expansion won’t solve traffic problems, pointing to a $2.2 billion widening of the Katy Freeway that ended up increasing average commute times. “For years, our community’s been fighting this,” Hidalgo said. “And as leaders in our community, we are determined to use any lever of government we can to change the trajectory of this project and advocate for the future of this county.”

It’s time we join the fight against these freeway projects that keep putting cars over people – just like the Downtown 10 project. We know that part of the freeway is nearing the end of if planned lifetime, so it does need to be rebuilt – the question is do we want TxDOT to widen I-10 just because they want to, or do we want TxDOT to work with us to design a project that preserves mobility on I-10, but also not only protects our current surface streets, but actually makes them safe and pleasant for people who walk and bike as well?

With that in mind, consider what our new Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg has to say on such matters: