|WESLACO, September 1 - Hidalgo County is a step closer to having a loop built on the eastern side of I-69 Central, from the Pharr International Bridge all the way north to the South Texas International Airport in Edinburg.
Details were announced by state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, vice chair of the House Committee on Transportation, to members of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council at its monthly meeting in Weslaco on Wednesday.
Martinez, D-Weslaco, said he met with Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ted Houghton in his Austin office earlier in the week to discuss TxDOT’s agreement to allocate $25 million for the long-awaited International Bridge Trade Corridor.
“This $25 million is going to get our International Bridge Trade Corridor project shovel-ready for construction,” Martinez said. “This money is in addition to the $85 million we got for State Highway 68. In order for 68 to work for our truck traffic we need to have IBTC constructed. In order for State Highway 365 to work, we need to have IBTC constructed. It all connects.”
The IBTC project connects the Pharr International Bridge and State Highway 365 with Interstate 2 and State Highway 68. When State Highway 493 is completed it will also connect to the Donna International Bridge. State Highway 365 will run Military Highway in Pharr to Granjeno.
“I want to thank Chairman Houghton publicly for committing to fund our International Bridge Trade Corridor project. He knows how important it is in helping get truck traffic from the Pharr and Donna bridges to Interstate 69 Central via State Highway 68,” Martinez told the Guardian.
Houghton is a businessman from El Paso. This means he understands the importance of trade with Mexico and having the transportation infrastructure in place to help move truck traffic, Martinez said.
“When I met with Chairman Houghton I showed him some of the studies that have been done on overweight traffic that we can utilize to leverage more funds. I pretty much showed him the map and said this is where we need help and what we need to do,” Martinez said.
“Chairman Houghton likes our plan. He is very positive and he is a gentleman who thinks the right way when it comes to things making sense. He knows what is important. He knows how it has to function. He wants to see things being done for our region.”
The City of Pharr has been pushing to get the International Bridge Trade Corridor project completed to better expedite truck traffic from its bridge to I-69 Central. Pharr is expecting a lot more truck traffic when the new Mazatlan-to-Matamoros superhighway is opened later this year or early next.
“We all know how much congestion there is on 281. It is bad in the mornings and it is bad in the late afternoon, in rush hour. So we need to build this relief route, State Highway 68. What will happen with all this truck traffic is the trucks will come off the Pharr Bridge, get on 365, then get on the State Highway 68 loop and go all the way north past Edinburg,” Martinez said.
“The IBTC is a section the Hidalgo County RMA has been working on for years. It has been the topic of a lot of conversation. A lot of money was focused on it but that money was moved. The money went on the State Highway 368 project instead. So, there has been a lot of concern as to whether there was going to be money for it. But, now we finally have money. There was a shortage and we were able to address it.”
Martinez said that the City of Edinburg is also being helped with the new loop. Edinburg leaders want State Highway 68 to connect from Monte Cristo to Interstate 69 Central at the South Texas International Airport.
“The plan was to have State Highway 68 come out to FM 2812. But, the City of Edinburg wanted the route changed so that it goes on to their airport. That makes sense because they want to have a cargo airport,” Martinez said.
“It made a lot of sense to have State Highway 68 come out at the north end at FM 490 rather than FM 2812. Even though I do not represent Edinburg I am happy to help with their request. We are all working together as a team. We are all thinking regionally.”
Martinez pointed out that if one adds the $25 million for IBTC with the $85 million announced earlier this year for State Highway 68, the Valley will have received $110 million for the loop east of Interstate 69 Central.
“It really is incredible what we have been able to do. One hundred and ten million dollars brought to the Valley in the space of six months. It is unheard of us to get this much money for the Valley. We are happy for the county. We got Edinburg what they wanted. We got Pharr what they wanted.”
Asked how long the IBTC project would take to complete, Martinez said: “It will probably take TxDOT two years to get ready for construction. So, that takes us to 2016. It would then likely take one or one and a half years to build. It is all coming together.”