Border Master Plan Unveils Transportation Project Rankings

By Nadia Macias

UTEP News Service

A list of more than 200 prioritized rail, road and interchange, and port of entry (POE) projects for the El Paso–Mexico border region was released Jan. 10 at a public information meeting held on The University of Texas at El Paso campus.

The list, officially part of the El Paso/Santa Teresa–Chihuahua Border Master Plan, was created with the help of multiple agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), The University of Texas at Austin and the UTEP Department of Civil Engineering.The public was able to view maps and detailed descriptions of potential transportation projects during the final El Paso/Santa Teresa – Chihuahua Border Master Plan public outreach event. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceThe public was able to view maps and detailed descriptions of potential transportation projects during the final El Paso/Santa Teresa – Chihuahua Border Master Plan public outreach event. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

“In an era of limited resources for the federal government to fund infrastructure, there are a lot of competing interests and communities advocating projects saying, ‘My project has the community backing,’” said Eduardo Hagert, who is part of TxDOT’s Office of International Relations. “So we decided to bring the communities together and have them decide what their priorities are. Now we’re cataloging and ranking infrastructure projects on both sides of the border – that way we have a document to look back on that says, ‘Yes, this is a priority for our region.’”

The master plan prioritizes planned transportation and port of entry (POE) projects for the region by using newly developed criteria such as congestion alleviation, economic value, improved accessibility to POEs, and community impact.

Among the top-ranking projects on the U.S list are constructing a direct connection between Loop 375 northbound and I-10 eastbound, adding capacity to Global Reach/Yarbrough Drive, adding up to six inspection lanes at the Zaragoza POE to increase capacity, and creating a Bluetooth Border Wait Time System at the Paso Del Norte POE that will measure, relay, and archive wait times and crossing times for U.S. and Mexico pedestrians and vehicles.

UTEP engineering faculty and students have been involved by helping set up public information events about the project and collecting existing infrastructure data, such as the volume of traffic that goes northbound in each POE, speed limits, and numbers of accidents – to create an inventory.

“In order for a transportation project to be considered, and eventually move forward, you need to have the data to back it up,” said Salvador Hernandez, Ph.D. assistant professor of civil engineering and co-principal investigator of the project. “And when you think about it, there was a lot of data that needed to be collected – it was from here all the way to Presidio County.”

Although the projects are now ranked according to priority, TxDOT officials say that does not mean they are definitely going to occur (because of limited resources), but the plan will help projects move forward more quickly and easily.

Alicia Romo, a graduate student in civil engineering, said assisting with the Border Master Plan project has helped prepare her for the workforce.

“By observing how a number of projects are developed and managed by government and private sector, I learned about people skills, conflict resolution, communication and organizational skills,” she said.

Romo helped gather historical data, prepared and finalized reports, and created maps of the study area.

“All of these critical skills were crucial in order to work as a team to prioritize and develop transportation strategies and solutions to enhance economic growth for both countries,” she said.

The Border Master Plan is scheduled to be officially complete in April 2013.