MCALLEN, Texas – Edinburg Mayor Ramiro Garza says he is pleased he now knows how much more money is needed to upgrade State Highway 281 to interstate standard all the way to I-37 at George West: $400 million.

Garza was given the figure by Pete Alvarez, Pharr district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, at Edwards Abstract & Title Company’s 18th Annual State of Real Estate Forum.

The forum was held at the McAllen Convention Center on Thursday, March 11.

After making a presentation on transportation initiatives, Alvarez took questions from the audience. In the Q&A, Mayor Garza asked: “I just want to bring up I-69. As you know, a lot of people in this room have been working to connect the Valley to an interstate system. So, what is the cost of that? To complete it. To connect all the way to I-37.”

Alvarez responded: “The total cost for that project is approximately $700 million.”

The TxDOT engineer said the first segment, from FM 490, near Edinburg Airport, to the San Manuel area will cost $145 million. “We are intending to go to construction in 2024, possibly 2023, if all goes well.”  

The next segment, from San Manuel to FM 755, just south of Encino, will cost $200 million, Alvarez said. After that, TxDOT would work on extending the interstate to Falfurrias, he said.

“So, $700-$750 million, to answer your question. That is a lot of money,” Alvarez said.

Mayor Garza later asked: “Of that $700 million, how much do we have?”

Alvarez answered: “Of the $700 million, currently we have $300 million.”

Garza responded: “So, we need $400 million?”

Alvarez answered: “We need $400 million to complete the corridor.”

After the event had concluded the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service grabbed a quick interview with Mayor Garza. 

“I am so glad Pete gave us that answer. I am going to convey that to the congressional delegation. They are working on the appropriations bill right now. Four hundred million is all we need,” Garza said.

“Put that in the (appropriations) bill. I mean we have money to fund the border wall, and all these things. This is what we need to complete our interstate system.”

Garza said upgrading State Highway 281 to interstate standard, so it can be called I-69 Central all the way from the Valley to George West is vital for the region.

“It is probably one of the most important projects to fund. It would have a huge impact on our region,” Garza said.

“I would like to stay focused on that. Sergio was sitting here. I put him on the spot. I said, Sergio that is the number, we need to work towards that.”

The “Sergio” Mayor Garza was referring to was Sergio Contreras, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.

“Mayor Villalobos was here. We need to work as the region and just stay focused on getting the funding. That is something we all need to work together on,” Garza said.

Garza was referring to McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos. 

Garza is a former executive director of Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. He said it will be easier to attract big corporations to the Valley if the presidents of such companies could see that the Valley is connected to the nation’s interstate system.

“It is going to benefit our whole region,” Garza said.

“I am going to do whatever I need to because I did not know that ($400 million) number. Now that we do, we know what to push for.”

State Highway 77

In his answer to Mayor Garza, TXDOT’s Alvarez also mentioned the cost of upgrading State Highway 77 to interstate standard from the Valley to I-37 at Robstown.

“That one is not quite $750 million. It is more like $500 million because we are not building that many frontage roads. King Ranch is there. There really is no need for frontage roads when you have the King Ranch,” Alvarez said.

If one combined the cost of upgrading both SH 77 and SH 281 to interstate standard the figure would be $1.5 billion, Alvarez reported.

To accompany his presentation, Alvarez displayed a map of the Valley on the big screen showing all the transportation projects TxDOT has identified as important.

“By the way, when you look at our portfolio, all these projects identified, it comes to $10.5 billion,” Alvarez said. “We will get $2.2 billion over the next ten years. To get to $10.5 billion, that is 50 years worth of funding, folks. Simple math.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the first in a three-part series on TXDOT Pharr District Engineer Pete Alvarez’s presentation at the 18th Annual State of Real Estate Forum hosted by Edwards Abstract & Title Co. Part Two will be posted in our next edition. 

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