The Lincoln Center in south central El Paso has been under threat of destruction several times in the past few years. Now community activists and elected officials are reacting to a new plan by the Texas Department of Transportation that calls for a new ramp to be built right through the second floor of the community center.
"The representations to me, including by the executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, have been all along that there are no TxDOT plans that would jeopardize the Lincoln Center standing," state Sen. Jose Rodriguez said at a news conference Friday.
Rodriguez and concerned residents gathered in front of the Lincoln Center to oppose the new TxDOT proposal that puts the building in jeopardy. Preparations for a building cleanup and even a future business plan had been moving forward based on what activists thought TxDOT's design was.
It all started six months ago when TxDOT began planning to create better access from I-10 to the Border Highway. TxDOT officials say it's an important step in the overall plan for the region to keep traffic moving in the future.
An old plan largely used the existing ramps south of I-10 with tweaks to make a more direct route to the Border Highway. But there were concerns about too much traffic having to cross multiple lanes
"So you have a double weave going on in that location, and it gets very unsafe to do that at those levels," said Robert Bielek, district engineer for TxDOT.
So consultants came up with a new plan that has several new ramps, and gets rid of others. The concern comes from how the direct connection from I-10 to the Border Highway is placed.
"Unfortunately they did find an alternative, but that alternative unfortunately requires a ramp that will go through the second floor of the Lincoln Center," Bielek said.
Road construction standards don't allow much leeway in building those ramps and while Bielek says they are working on alternatives there's also the nearby neighborhood to consider avoiding for ramp placement.
And then there are the murals; the new plan gets rid of some ramps with a lot of artwork on them. So can they be saved?
"The answer is yes," Bielek said. "We can take the ramp off the columns, and preserve the columns. You wrap the columns during the construction so you don't destroy the murals."
Bielek says that TxDOT will be looking at design changes for about the next six months. After that a year-long environmental review is required before the project would move forward, even moving through the Lincoln Center if necessary.
The complete I-10 to Border Highway connection project is expected to move toward completion by 2017. Then TxDOT intends to begin a half-billion dollar set of repairs and renovations to I-10 itself.
Supporters of the Lincoln Center say they'll continue with efforts to save the historic building, which housed the first Hispanic and African-American school in El Paso.