SOCORRO – The Socorro City Council put off a decision on a controversial road project Thursday, responding to complaints from residents who said the current plans threaten to alter their neighborhood and perhaps destroy their homes altogether.
“The city of Socorro and our consultants are currently reviewing and revising the Arterial One alternative analysis summary reports based on current conditions,” City Planner Lorrine Quimiro said at the outset of Thursday night’s City Council meeting. The council unanimously adopted her recommendation to delete a proposal on the agenda that could have chosen a preferred route for a new four-lane road.
Socorro and regional transportation officials have been studying the need for an arterial road connecting Socorro Road and Interstate 10 since 2014.Three alternatives have been considered since 2018. An engineering report this year identified the preferred route as one that used the existing Vineyard and Bauman roads as a major part of the new arterial.
More than 100 residents along that route filled Socorro City Hall and spilled into hallways Thursday night to press their concerns – and their frustrations that they’ve felt largely ignored in the road planning process, which is likely going to require the destruction of some existing homes.
“I want you to know that if you build on Bauman Road, you are not only tearing down buildings and lots, you are tearing down the last memories of my deceased father, his lifelong legacy in my forever home. You are tearing down my entire family,” said Delilah Hermosillo, whose family has lived in their home for more than 30 years.
Harvey Hilley Jr., whose family has farmed along Vineyard Road for 98 years, said any road building plans should take into consideration the community’s agricultural roots.
“I hope when you all start looking at this and the environmental impact that you do look at how it affects agriculture, if you’re looking to have agriculture in your community,” Hilley said.
About 1,000 people live near the proposed route along Vineyard and Bauman roads, known as Alternative 1 in the engineering report. Many of the residents began objecting this spring when they became aware that their neighborhoods would be greatly altered by the construction. Some homes would have to be flattened to make way for the road.
“Don’t go down in history as the people who displaced all the elders that you see here today. Don’t go down in history with that. Go down in history with innovation, with ideas, with progress that includes the community,” Monica Garcia told the City Council.
Socorro Mayor Ivy Avalos said the Arterial 1 road project isn’t scheduled to be let out for bids until 2028.
“Right now, we are in the beginning stages of further analysis, and during this process there will be more public meetings that will allow our residents to voice their comments and concerns,” she told the audience.
She did not provide a time frame for the process.
The City Council meeting on Thursday was a continuation of a June 1 meeting, which was recessed amid vigorous protests from residents who live on Bauman Road and other areas of Alternative 1.
The residents of the area got organizing help from the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization, a faith-based group that had helped colonias in the area gain access to water and sewerage services since the 1980s.
City Manager Adriana Rodarte told El Paso Matters earlier this week that she made a mistake when she said on the June 1 meeting agenda that the City Council would vote on adopting the recommendation in the engineering report to make Alternative 1 the preferred route for the four-lane road.
That was the agenda item that the City Council formally deleted on Thursday.
There is little dispute in Socorro about the need for a new arterial road connecting Socorro Road and I-10. The city of about 39,000 people 15 miles east of Downtown El Paso is the fastest growing part of the county.
But the residents along Alternative 1 – a generally low-income area where many residents built their homes with their own hands – have said the city hasn’t been transparent or listened to their concerns.
“We want to be clear, we’re not against the project itself. It is important to have proper planning to relieve traffic congestion in our communities,” said Dr. Lorena Silvestre-Tobias, a physician who is one of the EPISO leaders advocating for residents. “However, we strongly oppose federal and state dollars being used to build the road through a community that is made up of those who are the most vulnerable –elderly, children, individuals with disabilities, and individuals with limited English proficiency, without the basic right of proper representation.”
EPISO leaders gathered residents outside Socorro City Hall following Thursday’s meeting, and urged them to stay involved as the city continues planning the new roadway.
“We have a list of questions that we’re (taking) to them to try to find answers,” EPISO leader Joe Serafin said. “And we have a lot of questions. And some of those questions, like I said, may or may not get answered. But as we’re finding out, we’re presenting it to the group.”