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All El Paso County offices will be closed on February 17th

It’ll be lights out on Feb. 17 as well at the El Paso County Courthouse. County Judge Veronica Escobar announced Monday it will be closed that day because access to the building will be difficult or even blocked as part of the response to when Pope Francis visits Juarez.

Escobar said she wrestled over the decision, but came to the conclusion it wouldn’t do any good to force staff to come in when there are so many transportation problems expected.

The county heard from police and other law enforcement about just how difficult it will be to get to and from the courthouse. With the Border Highway shut down and Campbell Street serving as an emergency route for first responders. Employees wouldn’t be able to get into the parking garage, making just getting into work a struggle.

There was also concern the county would have to keep the courthouse open as an early voting station, but Escobar said the Texas Secretary of State has given approval to shut that down as well, given the circumstances.

“There’s no purpose to lighting up the building,” Escobar said, “heating it, calling employees in if it’s very difficult for them and members of the public to get in and out.”

County Commissioner for precinct one and former chief of police Carlos Leon said that the challenges for police, sheriffs and more that day will be enough without adding in a complication for county employees.

“It’s going to be a hard job for law enforcement to make sure that number one, El Pasoans are safe,” Leon said, “and of course that the Pope and his entourage are safe.”

Along with the courthouse staff, all non-essential county staff will have the paid day off, with facilities like the jail staying open.

In a news release sent on Monday, El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar announced that all El Paso County offices will be closed on February 17th when the Pope makes his historical visit to the Juarez.

The reason for the closure is due to limited access to and from the El Paso County Courthouse and the potential for significant traffic congestion. The decision comes after weeks of discussions and collaboration with the City/County Office of Emergency Management, the El Paso Sheriff’s Department, the El Paso Police Department as well as the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

The multiple street closures planned for the Pope’s visit will impair County employees and the public’s access to the El Paso County Courthouse. Law enforcement officials will be closing multiple access points; of importance is the complete closure of Campbell St. and Cotton St. which will be utilized as emergency access routes to South-Central El Paso. The El Paso Police Department has indicated that Campbell St., which is currently a one-way, will be converted into a two way street if necessary for emergency purposes. The only entry and exit for the El Paso County employee parking garage is on Campbell St. Closure of the Cesar Chavez Highway and an entire portion of South El Paso will also impair access to the Courthouse. In addition, the intersection at Kansas St. and San Antonio St. is closed for ongoing Streetcar Project work. Although work crews anticipate the opening of Kansas St. for the week of February 17 th , they are not certain.

All Ports of Entry will be open and in some cases running extended hours and opening added lanes, of particular importance is the Stanton St. Port of Entry which may receive significant traffic the day of the Papal visit to Cd. Juarez, MX. Heavy traffic and congestion on Stanton St. could impair cross street traffic near the Courthouse.

In addition, given that the El Paso County Courthouse serves as the primary early voting location, closure of the site for the day required additional collaboration with the El Paso County Elections Office and the Texas Secretary of State. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office must be presented with compelling information which would warrant the need to close any designated early voting site, especially a primary early voting location. After presenting compelling information to the Secretary of State’s office, the County of El Paso’s Election Administrator was granted the ability to close the early voting location at the El Paso County Courthouse.

El Paso County joins a list of other public entities that will be closed that day to include the City of El Paso, the University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso Community College and several school districts in the region.

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