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County Judge, Veronica Escobar
El Paso officials have options for rail line plans
- By Diana Washington Valdez, El Paso Times, Texas
- El Paso Times, 2011-07-24
July 24--Commuter rail has a future in El Paso provided that officials invest in a line that offers the best prospects for success, city Rep. Steve Ortega said.
"El Paso is the only large city in the United States without a commuter rail system," said Ortega, a member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Officials in El Paso are looking at New Mexico for examples of commuter transit services that could be launched here. These include New Mexico's RailRunner, which runs from Belen to Santa Fe, and the New Mexico Park & Ride Gold Route bus shuttle that serves Las Cruces and El Paso. There has also been talk of starting a rail service between the two cities.
Ortega said a light rail service that connects densely populated areas would be most likely to attract investment and use. Some of the concepts being kicked around include lines that connect:
-- The Juarez-El Paso international bridges and the University of Texas at El Paso.
-- The UTEP and University Medical Center areas.
-- The El Paso International Airport to Downtown, or other lines with connections to the suburbs.
Officials are looking for regions that can provide the highest ridership potential and good funding potential, Ortega said.
Mike Rooney, a retiree in East El Paso, said officials should consider other options that would help connect people in underserved areas to the region's main transportation grids.
Rooney has provided feedback to federal, state and local officials and to legislative
committees on this and other transportation topics.
"Rather than just look at something that benefits Juarez, our officials should look at connecting the Lower Valley as well as El Paso and Las Cruces," Rooney said.
"A RailRunner would look impressive tooting down the rail each day between Las Cruces and El Paso, and if the line could be extended, then it could equally add excitement and value to our El Paso Lower Valley."
He also discounted reusing the old streetcars that operated in El Paso until 1974.
"I went to the airport, where the old streetcars are stored, to take a look at them, and they are not in any good condition," Rooney said.
He said El Paso could come up with some strategic commuter rail connections for around $60 million to $75 million. "And any proposal would need to include a cooperative, dedicated advertisingÃpublic information program to help get ridership up on the current El Paso to Las Cruces bus route," Rooney said.
Many people still don't know the commuter bus service exists, and some officials believe it's because it suffers from a lack of marketing.
Ortega said realistically it may be 10 to 15 years before El Paso sees its first commuter rail system come alive again.
In the meantime, the MPO and its subcommittees will continue to develop recommendations for rail, light rail and other commuter service projects.
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6140.
- County Judge