Downtown hopes riding on streetcar project

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By Jazmine Zamora

Streetcar project supporters are expecting a new wave of tourists, shoppers, and reduction in traffic as construction approaches completion.

“The benefits excel beyond just downtown,” said Martin Bartlett, a spokesman for the El Paso Streetcar Project. “It really is about picking those destinations and giving residents and visitors another choice to travel between those amenities.”

Back in the 1900’s, El Paso and many other cities used streetcars as a way of transportation to get to where they needed to go. However, in 1974 they stopped running.

“The very last line that stopped running was actually an international line and it was – I believe it was – a complaint by Juarez business owners [whom]felt that it was making it too easy for patrons to do business in El Paso,” Bartlett said.

The decision to bring back the streetcar has always been something that was kept in mind, it was just a matter of when, Bartlett said.

“This is not something that has just happened,” Bartlett said. “This is the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people for decades.”

In roughly 2011 and 2012, the decision to revive the streetcar in El Paso was finally made.

“I think the big hope is that they revitalize downtown cores and some of the associated neighborhoods,” said Carl Jackson, assistant director of Streetcar Operations at Sun Metro. “The people that are building these [streetcars]are thinking that this is a way to bring a new audience into downtown.”

Photo by Jazmine Zamora for Journalism in July

Photo by Jazmine Zamora for Journalism in July

The location of the streetcar was decided upon studies and determining what the right route would be.

“There’s no place in this community that is more active, more urban, more dense, more full of those kind of people generating amenities than downtown on the Oregon street corner and Stanton street corner,” Bartlett said.

Construction began in late 2015 and will continue through the rest of the year. The progress that the streetcar is making shows the determination they have to finish the project.

“We’re right on schedule,” Jackson said. “Not only are we on schedule for the construction, we’re just a little bit ahead.”

Citizens in El Paso will be able to witness the streetcars going around with no people in it during the testing phase of the streetcar.

“They would have already had a couple of months of practice of operating the system without carrying anybody,” Jackson said. “So consider the first couple of months when you start seeing streetcars go around as a dress rehearsal.”

The streetcars being brought to El Paso are the same ones that were used up until 1974. There will be a total of six streetcars being used.

“It was such a timeless design and they were so well designed that they can actually be updated to 21st century standards,” Jackson said.

These trolleys contain much sentiment so there are ways they are trying to modernize these trolleys by keeping the vintage feel.

“The streetcar is going to be painted in a color scheme reminiscent to those that actually rolled in the streets in the 50s, 60s, and 70s,” Bartlett said. “The way they’re actually laid out on the cars themselves will be harkening to the color schemes that were actually in place on the cars originally.”

Although we have about another year of waiting to enjoy the streetcar to ourselves, there is plenty to be excited for.

“They’re being completely rehabilitated,’ Jackson said. “We’re adding air conditioning and Wi-Fi and things that I believe the designers never thought of.”

In just a matter of a little more than a year, the hope of the streetcar is to bring more life to downtown El Paso.

“As you walk around downtown, there’s a lot of store fronts that are closed,” Jackson said. “So the idea is to bring some attention to the downtown core and make sure that people become aware of it as a destination.”

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