PHARR, RGV – The Pharr Interchange will undergo major reconstruction for three years beginning 2020 to alleviate the current traffic congestion during peak hours.

Last month, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) approved the issuing of a request for qualifications (RFQ) for the full reconstruction of the United States 83/U.S. 281 (Pharr) Interchange project.

The Pharr Interchange has heavy congestion because Hidalgo county has grown tremendously in the last ten years. When the interchange was built in 1993, there were 25,000 vehicles a day traveling through Expressway 83 (I-2). Today, 25 years later, there are 150,000 vehicles a day.

Octavio Saenz

According to Octavio Saenz, public information officer for TxDOT in Pharr, there are over one million vehicles in the Rio Grande Valley, not including the eighteen-wheelers and visitors from across the border.

“If we don’t address this infrastructure then there won’t be additional economic growth,” Saenz told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

“It’s with every municipality and every state that if there’s a good infrastructure then there’s good economic growth and that’s what we’re all about.”

Saenz said the total price of the project will be $320 million. Below is a summary of the changes from TxDOT that will be made to the Pharr Interchange:

The project will provide 7.8 miles of non-tolled improvements along U.S. 83 from just west of 2nd Street to just east of Farm-to-Market 2557 (S. Stewart Road) and U.S. 281 from Nolana Loop to Interstate 2 in McAllen, Pharr and San Juan. The Pharr Interchange will include two-lane direct connectors in all four directions. The U.S. 83 general purpose lanes will be reconstructed and/or widened from six to eight general purpose lanes (four in each direction) from 2nd Street to the U.S. 83/U.S. 281 interchange. Operational improvements include approaches and departures to and from the direct connectors and the reconfiguration of main lane ramps.

TxDOT will be acquiring 7.4 acres for the project to the northwest of the Pharr Interchange, Saenz said.

According to Saenz, one major concern the community has regarding the reconstruction of the Pharr Interchange is that it would be completely closed. Not true, he said. The process is to build and to switch over the traffic, he explained.

“The big difference is that there are going to be two vehicle connectors going from I-69C into Interstate 2 and vice versa instead of one vehicle connector. The ramps are also going to spaced out a little more because you need additional space to weave traffic in and out to deal with heavy traffic,” Saenz said.

“The other thing is that also it’s a different type of design in which we’re trying to be the most efficient. We’re going to be building at night, on the weekends, whenever and wherever there’s less traffic to make sure that we don’t hinder traffic.”

On Thursday, TxDOT hosted an event at the Pharr Events Center to educate the public about the reconstruction of the Pharr Interchange. The floor was open to the community. Saenz was asked why TxDOT does not hold off the project until State Highway 68, which will move traffic from I-2 in Donna to north Edinburg, Saenz said there is an existing and immediate need for additional infrastructure because of the growth in the economy and population.

“SH 68 is still a long way to go. [The Pharr Interchange] project is something that we know that is needed and it’s something that is going to help this area. If SH 68 does come along then it’s just going to alleviate [the traffic] and make this even more efficient,” Saenz said.

“We need a system and we need more than anything we need the educated public to understand that we are addressing needs now for problems that might occur later in 10 or 20 years.”

Also in attendance was Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, the mayor of the City of Pharr. He said this project has been a priority not only for the City of Pharr, but the whole district for quite some time.

“We need the proper infrastructure to move these commodities which is important for our community and our economy. We’ve been heavily [pushing] to get this done in an expeditious manner and with the right amount of resources,” Hernandez said.

“I’m delighted to hear we’re exceeding the original funding of $150 million to really address this issue and the breadth. The involvement of all these cities is going to greatly benefit the population in the Rio Grande Valley.”