Trans Mountain Road Widening

Official Name: Loop 375 Trans Mountain Road Project

State(s): Texas

Project Lead: Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)

Participating Agencies:
Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
City of El Paso

Participating NGOs:
Sierra Club's Rio Grande Chapter

Project Description:

TxDOT's proposed $85 million project would widen the Trans Mountain Road, or Loop 375, in El Paso from I-10 into Franklin Mountains State Park (including 3.6 mi of main lanes and 2.1 mi of frontage roads) expanding the current two-lane undivided road to a four-lane divided road with two-lane frontage roads. The right-of-way (ROW) footprint and geometric design would provide for expansion to six main lanes from Northwestern Drive to east of Paseo del Norte Drive.
Five alternatives were also developed by TxDOT: (1) No-Build, (2) construction of a climbing lane, (3) construction of two new lanes, (4) a boulevard concept, and (5) a freeway facility with frontage roads and direct connectors to I-10.
Roadkill is already a problem on the road, and widening the road to four lanes can lead to decreased habitat connectivity, decreased species gene pool variation, and declining populations.

Concerns:

Roadkill is already an issue on the Trans Mountain Road, according to Franklin Mountains State Park employees, which runs through Chihuahuan Desert habitat. Because of the scarcity of water and food, desert species generally need larger ranges. Widening the road may create a "biological dead-zone" or area with a lack of wildlife habitat connectivity, leading to increased roadkill, isolated individuals, severed migration routes, a reduction in healthy wildlife gene pools, and declining populations. A widened road is also sure to encourage increased development alongside. TxDOT must do a thorough environmental impact statement (EIS) of the proposed project's potential impacts in order to properly plan mitigation efforts, and to decide whether this project should be completed at all. TxDOT's environmental assessment which determined "no significant impact" was a deficient study which used outdated data. And TxDOT makes the assumption that significant development along the road would occur even if the project was not approved.

Status:

This project seems to be on a fast track. The schematic design was initiated in Fall 2009. The public hearing was held on March 22, 2011. The environmental assessment was completed in February 2011. Construction is scheduled to be completed in Spring 2013. TxDOT is warning that the $85 million could be reallocated to other projects statewide if there are significant delays.
TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are in the process of evaluating public comments and reviewing the project's environmental assessment, which will determine whether a more rigorous study (an EIS) should be required. There is no deadline for FHWA's decision.

Contacts:

TxDOT El Paso District Office
13301 Gateway Boulevard West, El Paso, TX 79928
Public Information Office
915-790-4200

City of El Paso
Attn: Ms. Jane Shang
Deputy City Manager for Mobility Services
2 Civic Center Plaza, El Paso, TX 79901

Sierra Club's Rio Grande Chapter Contact List
Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter: riogrande.chapter@sierraclub.org
Sierra Club El Paso Group Representative: Bill Addington at 915-539-4158 or aguavida@valornet.com
Sierra Club El Paso Group: P.O. Box 9191, El Paso, TX 79995, 915-594-7342
Sierra Club NM Main Office: 142 Truman NE, Albuquerque, NM 87108, 505/243-7767
Sierra Club Southern New Mexico Office: Southwest Environmental Law Center, 275 N. Downtown Mall, Las Cruces, NM, 575-522-5552

Project Websites:

TxDOT's "Environmental Assessment: Loop 375 (Trans Mountain Road) from I-10 to 0.479 mi east of the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park entrance, El Paso County, Texas"

Organization Websites:

Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter's April/May/June 2011 Newsletter (page 15) from El Paso City Council District 2 Representative Susie Byrdís March 17 blog.: "TxDOT to El Paso: My Way or the Highway"

News:

El Paso Times (04/18/2011): "Trans Mountain's unseen impact: Effects on wildlife difficult to predict"

El Paso Times (04/12/2011): "Impacts of Trans Mtn. Road plan criticized"

KVIA El Paso (03/23/2011): "Residents Voice Opinions About Transmountain Project Proposal"

Photos/Maps:

TxDOT's Loop 375 Improvements Project Location Map

TxDOT's 3-D video visualization of Loop 375 Improvements Project in El Paso

TxDOT's presentation from March 22, 2011 public hearing in El Paso

Action:

Contact TxDOT, the City of El Paso, and your locally elected representatives to voice your opposition to widening of the Trans Mountain Road as the proposed project stands. The "no-build" or "boulevard concept" alternatives should seriously be considered, and an EIS should be conducted. TxDOT should not assume that significant development will occur in the area along the Trans Mountain Road even if the road is not widened.

Write a Letter to the Editor of your local newspaper voicing your concern about the impact that widening the road will have on wildlife habitat in and around the Franklin Mountains.