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No exit strategy: I-10's shutdown keeps drivers stuck for hours

By: Genevieve Curtis

EL PASO, Texas--Cars backed up along El Paso's critical highway can cripple the borderland, and drivers saw another example of that Tuesday night.
I-10 is the citys major artery connecting east and west, but the vital route is all too vulnerable to total shutdown, leaving drivers feeling stuck.
I thought that I was going to be stuck in traffic forever, said one stranded driver.
A semi-truck took down an electrical pole Tuesday near the Piedras exit in Central El Paso, bringing crawling rush-hour traffic to a total stop.
Some KFOX14 viewers reported a three-hour commute home. 
Its just the latest in a series of problems in the same area. Last falls flooding and a train derailment also caused a tieup on the major thoroughfare.
It was bad, bad, bad, said Alfredo Rodriguez, who works in central El Paso and commutes from the east side. 
But transportation experts, including the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, are working to make sure its not the sole option for drivers.
If theres an emergency, how in the heck do you get an ambulance through or the fire department? said Rodriguez.
Creation of the toll lanes and expansion of the lanes on Cesar Chavez are part of relieving I-10s congestion. 
Thats why we did all of this, to help with situations like the ones we had yesterday, said Raymond Telles of the CRMA.
As KFOX14 has reported, the Texas Department of Transportation is planning on a major $800 million project to extend Border Highway West up to Racetrack Drive. The CRMA is a partner in that project. 
The county's 2013 Mobility Plan maps out connections that could join I-10 and the Border Highwayfor when you need an exit plan from I-10.
Plans for gateways along I-10 could help funnel traffic off I-10 West when there's a major backup.  That project could start at the end of 2014.
Everyone needs to be aware of our system so we can spread out that congestion and manage it in a better way, said Telles.  
But many of new roads could be five to 10 years away or more, and right now for El Pasoans wedged between a mountain and Mexico, another route home can be hard to find.
Telles said the toll lanes on Cesar Chavez are still so new that they havent yet been able to establish a pattern with their data. However they did see a 12 percent increase in drivers on Tuesday night when tI-10 was so congestedcompared to drivers on Monday. There was a 24 percent increase in users on Tuesday compared to the previous Tuesday, but Telles said theyve been seeing a fairly regular increase week to week and theres no way to tell how much of Tuesday nights toll lane use can be attributed to the I-10 shutdown.