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TXDOT plan could put Lincoln Center in jeopardy

Updated: Tuesday, February 18 2014, 09:09 AM MST

By: Stacey Welsh
EL PASO, Texas -- A historic El Paso building could be in the way of a major highway project.

The Texas Department of Transportation has plans to connect the Cesar Chavez Border Highway to Interstate 10, but will have to add a new ramp over the "spaghetti bowl" interchange. That project could interfere with the Lincoln Center's current location.

"[The problem is] trying to get ramps onto those existing structures and have enough weaving distance so that we don't have people playing bumper cars up there and running into each other," TXDOT engineer Bob Bielek said.

A group of advocates trying to save the Lincoln Center said TXDOT has planned construction around the more than 100-year-old building in the past.

"This was the first Mexican school [in El Paso]. In addition to that, there are important murals inside the building by Carlos Flores that cannot be taken off the wall because they're painted on the wall," historian and Lincoln Park Conservation Committee member Miguel Juarez said.

TXDOT brought up the possibility in Friday's MPO Transportation Policy Board meeting. Bielek said a TXDOT consultant came up with the new plan about a week ago.

"We didn't want everyone to find out three or four months from now when we go to public meetings and into the environmental process for this project," Bielek said.

TXDOT expects this project to ease traffic in the area, because with more than $500 million worth of improvements to I-10 coming up in the next few years, drivers could need a more efficient route to the border highway.

"Now you have to get onto Paisano. You have to get onto a local street to get from one to the other. If that happens, it just will tie up traffic and make it virtually impossible to move in El Paso," Bielek said.

TXDOT also owns the Lincoln Center, leaving some advocates feeling as though there is not much they can do to save the building.

"This is actually the purpose for which it was purchased. What we want to do is recognize the community's concerns," Bielek said.

"History already tells us that we buy out buildings, we buy out properties, we tear things down because of putting in a highway or expanding. So, it's a very possible reality," State Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) said.

State Rep. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) also said he's been working to preserve the Lincoln Center for the last few years.

"We've been working to try to get a business plan at the request of the mayor that's supposed to be finalized toward the end of this month. We're going to do a clean-upcleanup of the center authorized by TXDOT," Rodriguez said.

Bielek said TXDOT plans to gather public opinion on the issue before making any decisions.

TXDOT plan could put Lincoln Center in jeopardy


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