Saturday, March 10, 2012

Push for Trolley System Re-Emerges

Proponents of a fixed-rail trolley system have become increasingly vocal in their hope that the City will decide to resurrect a streetcar line in El Paso. Their hope is that the City will include a streetcar project in the coming quality of life bond election that will allow El Pasoans to decide the project's fate.
Illustrative plan from Connecting El Paso, showing suggested redevelopment along the Oregon Street corridor.
The streetcar project of choice would stretch from the Paso del Norte international bridge downtown up Oregon Street to UTEP, a two-mile one way trip. It would cost an estimated $80 Million to construct the line and refurbish or purchase rail cars. Currently, there are eight or nine aging streetcars throughout the city that were retired when the streetcar system was closed.
Conceptual image from Connecting El Paso, showing an imagined streetcar line on Oregon Street with surrounding development.
A 2010 streetcar study conducted by Cambridge Systematics found that the line between downtown and UTEP would be heavily used. The study also found that the return on investment would be 12 to 1, or hundreds of millions of dollars over 15 years. This would include ridership, development surrounding the line, and the effect on tourism.
Map showing the possible route for a streetcar line along Oregon Street, from the Cambridge Systematics study.
Peter Svarzbein, a local artist, is spearheading the effort to revive streetcars lines and place the project on the November ballot. He recently told the El Paso Times, "This is a way to cut down on drunk driving, brand the city and generate tourism. There's only so much the city can do to show clear signs to developers and property owners. It's going to take more than smoke and mirrors to revitalize Downtown. This is a literal investment on the ground."
Old photograph of a streetcar in El Paso, from Peter Svarzbein's Tumblr website.
City Representative Steve Ortega also supports the project and stated, "No one seems to have a problem with large investment made in things like (freeway) overpasses, but when it comes to 21st-century rail projects, there's heartache amongst some."
Possible change over time for the corridor, from Connecting El Paso.
Streetcars are also environmentally friendly since they run on electricity and can entice automobile users to switch to mass transit.

The Oregon line would take the same route that the planned Bus Rapid Transit system would take, for the Mesa corridor. Oregon Street is currently going major reconstruction in order to accommodate the BRT line, which will have a stop at the Glory Road Transit Terminal. The City is still determining which projects to include in the $300-$500 Million quality of life bond election to be held in November.

Cambridge Systematics' El Paso Rail Transit Studyhttp://
Connecting El Paso study:
The El Paso Transnational Trolley Project Tumblr:
El Paso Times article:
KVIA ABC7 video story: