Plans for Downtown streetcar system leave public divided
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
In the near future, students may be able to use a new form of transportation as The City of El Paso carries out a plan to implement a streetcar system that will circulate the downtown area and will trolley up to the Glory Road Transfer Center.
The Texas Department of Transportation has $90 million in state funds to revitalize El Paso’s historic streetcar system. The 5.2-mile route was approved by city council on June 5.
Molly Walker, senior Latin American and border studies major believes that the student population has a lot to gain from the streetcar concept.
“I feel the streetcar will be connecting a developing university district with libraries and museums,” Walker said. “It will also engage students with the downtown area.”
The area covered by the proposed route is highly dense in population. The plan will include a route that will make its way up Oregon Street and down Stanton Street, connecting downtown to UTEP, EPCC and the entertainment district off Glory Road.
Another route will circulate the Downtown shopping district with stops at the international bridges, which sees thousands of pedestrians crossing daily. Two public meetings were held by the URS Corporation and Sun Metro in which El Pasoans were able to voice their opinions and raise concerns about the new project, according to Public Affairs Coordinator for the Sun Metro, Laura Cruz-Acosta.
“We were very pleased with the turn out,” Cruz-Acosta said. “It’s exciting. It shows that the community is interested in this project.”
Those who came out to the meeting were very vocal in expressing their opinions.
“We had a lot of pros and a lot of cons, which is great because we want to hear what the community has to say about the project,” Cruz-Acosta said.
Some of the Cincinnati district residents were not thrilled about having a streetcar that would bring more disturbances to their neighborhood.
Issues such as noise, pollution, alcohol consumption and the times of operation were raised.
Keith Pannell, a resident of Cincinnati Street, is not against the streetcar concept, but believes that if the route would travel along historic monuments it would appeal more for tourism.
“There is already a bus service that runs through this area. Why spend $90 million to service the same area? It’s bad,” Keith said.
Supporting the project was Prince McKenzie, director of the El Paso Railroad Museum, who addressed the vintage PCC streetcars that operated in the streets of El Paso at the turn of the twentieth century.
He explained that restoring these vintage streetcars would be more cost efficient than buying replicas.
“We want the authenticity and accuracy of the streetcars because this is a part of our cultural history,” McKenzie said.
A lifelong resident of El Paso, Federico Villalba, remembers when he was young, how people would travel back and forth from Juárez to El Paso in the streetcars.
“It is a throw back to nostalgia,” Villalba said. “I would ride the trolleys all over the city because it was our form of transportation, before people became so car-centric.”
He believes the implementation of a streetcar system is the spark the city needs in order to start thinking of different forms of transportation.
Listening to all the diverse opinions and moderator of the meeting was Derek Benedict, the transportation engineer at URS Corporation, the firm chosen to complete the environmental and engineering phases of the streetcar route.
He described the potential economic development and economic growth in the city as a direct result of the implementation of streetcars.
“This is such an economic driver,” Benedict said. “Studies have shown that cities with streetcars have a 10 to one economic impact.”
The main reason behind such an impact is that streetcars induce land development.
“The embedded tracks become an investment aimed to promote new businesses, new housing and will create permanent jobs,” Benedict said. “This benefits the city from a smart growth and urbanism perspective.”
The project is still in its preliminary phases and it is is expected to be complete by 2015, according to Benedict.
Guerrero Garcia may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.