Chavez freeway hits a bumpy road in Fort Worth

Posted Monday, Apr. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Getting the Texas Legislature to rename a stretch of Interstate 35W through Fort Worth for the late labor leader Cesar Chavez hasn't been as simple as passing your typical honorary-title legislation.

In 2011, a "Cesar Chavez Memorial Freeway" bill got Texas House approval but died in a Senate committee.

This session, HB377 by Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat, passed the House Transportation Committee March 27 and could get a floor vote soon.

The bill would attach the Chavez name to the section of I-35W between I-20 and Texas 183 (Airport Freeway).

SB1314, an identical measure by Sen. Wendy Davis, also a Fort Worth Democrat, met resistance in the Senate Transportation Committee but passed 5-4 on Wednesday. Among the dissenters was Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills.

Chavez, who founded the United Farm Workers union, is considered a Latino champion. His March 31 birthday is a state holiday in Texas, California and Colorado.

Tarrant County also recognizes the day. The Arlington school board has repeatedly rejected attempts to make it a day off.

Burnam insists there's broad local support for the renaming effort. But apparently no one tried to get Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price on board.

Contacted by the Editorial Board on Thursday, Price said by email that she understands the significance of Chavez to the Hispanic community but she hadn't been aware of the legislation and had reservations.

"For practical purposes, I'm not sure we need to be renaming major highways in Fort Worth, like I-35," said Price, who was elected mayor in June 2011 -- after the last legislative session. "I think it's confusing to have to deal with the various names given to different stretches of major highways."

Actually, I-35 already has a name: In 2005, lawmakers voted to honor military veterans by calling the freeway the "Purple Heart Trail" from Laredo on the south to the Red River on the north. A Chavez designation wouldn't supplant that.

Texas also has two other roadways named for the labor leader.

The "Cesar Chavez Memorial Highway" is part of Texas 44 in Nueces and Jim Wells counties outside Corpus Christi; Loop 375 between I-10 and Santa Fe Street in El Paso County is the "Cesar Chavez Border Highway."

Burnam said making Chavez more visible provides a good example for kids.

A Fort Worth elementary school was named for Chavez in 2002.

Burnam and Davis clearly feel strongly about renaming the portion of I-35W for Chavez, but unless they can show strong local backing, legislative approval is not likely.

The fact that their move surprised Price shows they still have some homework to do.

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