Lee Trevino Debate Resurfaces as Traffic Problems Grow
by Rene Leon
Posted on April 9, 2007
A controversial plan to extend Lee Trevino Drive in order to alleviate heavy traffic congestion in East El Paso has again become a topic of debate within El Paso’s political and business arenas.
The proposed plan calls for Lee Trevino to be extended to Loop 375 from its current ending at the North Loop intersection. Opposition to the plan has stemmed from the necessity to acquire private property for the project to be completed, but supporters feel the project is necessary in order to address the traffic woes faced by the growing Eastside and Mission Valley neighborhoods.
Richard Dayoub, President of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce, appeared before City Council last week to discuss the City’s Major Thoroughfare Plan. He addressed the various changes that have been made to the plan, and he specifically addressed the deletion of the Lee Trevino extension by council in December of 2005.
After his comments, several City Council members had questions for Dayoub, but were unable to ask because the Texas Open Meetings act prohibits the discussion of issues that are not on the Council’s agenda for that particular meeting. Since Dayoub was speaking during the call to the public session, Council was only allowed to discuss placing an item on the agenda for future meetings.
So Mayor John Cook did just that; on the agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting is an item calling for discussion and action on placing the Lee Trevino extension back into the Major Thoroughfare Plan.
“We were advised by the City Attorney that it would have to be on the agenda if we wanted to engage in debate on it; that’s why we put it on the agenda for this week,” Cook said.
Rep. Eddie Holguin, at a press conference on Monday near the intersection of Lee Trevino and North Loop, said he opposed reinserting the extension into the Major Thoroughfare Plan. “The Chamber of Commerce is trying to resurrect the extension against the desires of neighborhoods and residents,” Holguin said.
He stated that the proposed extension would result in the loss of 270 homes and the displacement of over 1000 people. “I was elected to represent the residents of the Eastside and Mission Valley,” he added, “and I will continue to fight for their interests, and their interests alone.”
Holguin said he would like to see action on the issue so that residents would have insight into the projects supporters. “Let’s take an open vote,” he said, “to see what businesses want to demolish houses, and the residents can boycott those businesses.
Mayor Cook contended there has been misinformation given to the public on the impact the extension would have on the area. “The initial study shows 100 properties will be impacted,” Cook said, noting that figure includes both vacant land and properties with homes. “Even then, some people would be losing only part of their property, not the whole thing,” he added, saying that some owners would only need to give up 5 feet of property for the project to be completed.
Troy Hicks, an environmental technology consultant and City Council candidate for District 6, was also present at Holguin’s press conference. Hicks said he has spoken with neighborhood associations and residents in Mission Valley who are in favor of the extension.
“They recognize that traffic congestion relief is much needed,” Hicks said. “Its dangerous,” he added, “people are cutting through neighborhoods,” to avoid traffic.
Hicks said that he would cooperate with all interested parties in looking into the Lee Trevino extension. “I would work with them (Chamber of Commerce), with neighborhoods, and with the Tiguas,” he said. Hicks added that those groups' best interest would be traffic congestion relief.
Rep. Steve Ortega, whose district includes areas impacted by the proposed extension, said that many of the traffic experts he has spoken to agree the plan is needed. “Something needs to be done to mitigate congestion in the Lee Trevino and Zaragoza area,” he said.
Ortega also noted that the proposed extension still requires further work. He said there would be no action until modifications have been made so that the plan does not affect too many people. “I want there to be public input,” Ortega added. “However long it takes to get community input, community buy-in, we won’t move forwards until we’ve vetted this with the community.”
Rep. Holguin stated that a bridge slated to be built over the railroad intersection with Zaragoza would relief that traffic congestion in the area. “The bridge bypass will accomplish what needs to be accomplished,” he said. “It’s being 90 percent funded by the State,” he added.
But Hicks said that funding for the project is lacking. “No, it's not funded 90 percent,” he said, “it’s more in the area of 50 percent.” Hicks said the City is still in negotiations with property owners around the intersection. He said that a figure on funding could not be reached without final agreements with those businesses.
According to Rep. Ortega, the railroad bypass is not a viable alternative to the Lee Trevino extension. “No, that does not add any capacity to Zaragoza,” he said. “It just facilitates the flow of traffic. You’re still going to have to wait at the lights just as long.”
Mayor Cook agreed that a bridge on Zaragoza would not alleviate the Lee Trevino congestion problem. “Folks from planning said that is an entirely different problem. You can go by Zaragoza and the freeway anytime, Monday through Friday all day long, and probably wait for 3 or 4 light changes to get through,” he said.
Cook noted that the intersection of Zaragoza and I-10 is the busiest in the city. “That doesn’t mean that doesn’t have to be done,” he said of the Zaragoza railroad bypass, “but it won’t solve congestion.”
Interests and Motivations
The plan to extend Lee Trevino has been contentious since it was first debated by Council two years ago.
On Oct. 18, 2005, the Council voted unanimously to deny the extension. Then, on Dec. 13, 2005, a public hearing was held on an ordinance calling for the deletion of the Lee Trevino extension from the Major Thoroughfare Plan. A Council majority voted in favor of removing the extension.
Holguin believes the placing of the project as an item on City Council’s agenda is motivated by special interests. “We don’t know their motives,” he said, speaking of the Chamber of Commerce.
But Richard Dayoub disagrees. “The express purpose behind it is to address potential and existing congestion that exists in our community,” he said.
Dayoub also said that there have been many additional challenges with the area's highways as a result of population growth. “That area is among the most significant in terms of population growth,” he said of the Lee Trevino and Zaragoza intersections with I-10.
Echoing Mayor Cook’s concern with the traffic problems in the area, Dayoub said, “you only have to go there on any given day to see the kind of congestion.”
Dayoub stated he only hopes that a meaningful dialogue can take place on the issue. “This is about the Chamber’s best interest,” he said, “not about Eddie Holguin or Richard Dayoub.”
Noting that the Chamber of Commerce is actively trying to encourage elected officials to make smart decisions for the community, Dayoub said, “We’d like to those decisions to be based on facts, not the emotion of the moment.”
Rene Leon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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