TX: Texas Transportation Commission Approves $97M for Trolleys in El Paso

June 27--PASADENA, Texas -- As expected, the Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday approved $97 million to resume trolley service in El Paso after a 30-year hiatus.

Even though the approval could be seen as a boon for El Paso, a local lawmaker with a lot of clout in transportation issues criticized the transparency of the process under which the project was selected.

Meeting at the Port of Houston, the transportation commission approved the project as part of $2.2 billion in additions to the commission's statewide Unified Transportation Program.

Also included in the funding were $34 million for the final two ramps needed to complete the interchange between Loop 375 and Interstate 10 on the East Side of El Paso. In addition, $9 million to widen and improve Old Hueco Tanks Road between I-10 and Socorro was part of the package.

Along with El Paso's trolley project, the commission Thursday voted to fund mass-transit projects in Austin, San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas. Commission Chairman Ted Houghton, an El Pasoan, said the projects are a recognition that Texas can't meet the needs of its booming population through road construction alone.

The trolley system is expected to include some refurbished cars that plied the streets of Downtown from 1950 to 1974, according to a letter written in support of renewed funding by County Judge Veronica Escobar.

Plans call for it to run north from the international bridge at Stanton Street, loop the University of Texas at El Paso campus and run south along Oregon Street back to the international border. It will make 27 stops along the way.

Earlier this week, Houghton said construction could start in August and be complete within three years.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, earlier this week spoke out in opposition to the project, saying that El Paso had more pressing transportation priorities.

On Thursday, Pickett, who is chairman of a select committee on transportation funding, said he didn't intend to speak again against the project, but against the way it was funded -- through the Unified Transportation Program.

Just days before Thursday's meeting, which projects would be funded as part of the program did not appear on the commission's online agenda.

"It's time to have an open discussion about how to fund mobility," Pickett said.

Commissioner Victor Vandergriff agreed.

"I don't think we have enough open, public debate of these projects before they go on the list," he said.

Marty Schladen may be reached at 512-479-6606. Twitter: @martyschladen.

Copyright 2014 - El Paso Times, Texas

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