West TX trade corridor: La Entrada sparks controversy

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Marfa, Alpine on Mexico truck path Residents of scenic West Texas towns not happy about La Entrada route

THE NEW YORK TIMES
Monday, March 19, 2007

MARATHON — The idea that in a few years, hundreds of diesel-puffing semi trucks from Mexico could be tooling through two small towns in this area of West Texas every day has upset residents.
The towns are on the route of a projected trade corridor from Mexico called La Entrada al Pacifico. In the proposal’s current form, La Entrada would route semis through single-stoplight Marfa, population 2,400, and neighboring Alpine, population 7,000, which has three traffic signals on two one-way streets through town.

Marfa is a travel destination for many in Central Texas and beyond, including East Coast art lovers, because of the famed Chinati Foundation, which houses 100 untitled works in mill aluminum by artist Donald Judd.

At a Texas Department of Transportation hearing in Marathon last week, dozens of residents spoke out against the plan, which state officials insisted was strictly preliminary.

“We own a precious natural resource that is becoming more and more valuable: peace and quiet,” said Don Dowdey, chairman of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. “Out here, scenery, tranquillity and a rural way of life have attracted people seeking relief from congested cities.”

The Entrada proposal, he said, “would ruin the heritage of the Big Bend area’s beautiful, wide-open spaces.”

Some here, however, doubt that the proposal can be stopped.

“How we behave in the next year could have an impact,” Marfa Mayor Dave Lanman said, “but I don’t think we’re going to stop the corridor.”

“They have the ability to chip away at it — a little piece here, a little piece there — and they think as the traffic increases, the public will get used to it,” Lanman added. “They won’t remember when you’d pass just two or three cars for the 24 miles between Marfa and Alpine.”

Lanman said he thinks the current highway construction intended to create more passing lanes between Marfa and Alpine was the start of La Entrada, and he fears that the public hearings, which continue today in Midland and Tuesday in Fort Stockton, are being held to fulfill a legal requirement.

Brian Swindell of HDR Engineering in Dallas, which is conducting a study of the plan for the state, which is expected to be finished by next March, said, “We expect to identify the preferred alternative — it could be rail or roadway — and the supporting information that supports selection of that corridor.”

He said that bypass routes or a “do-nothing alternative” could also be considered.

La Entrada al Pacifico was signed into law in 1997 by then-Gov. George W. Bush. The oil cities of Midland and Odessa to the north, through the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance, have budgeted more than $34 million in state and federal transportation money to promote the route, saying the increase in freight traffic will boost local economies.

By 2010, according to figures cited at a recent alliance conference, 550 trucks are expected to pass daily through Presidio; by 2020, 1,455 trucks. The current average is 49 per day.

Residents of Marfa and Alpine fear that the truck traffic will harm their towns economically because they thrive on tourism.

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