McALLEN, RGV – Border Trade Alliance leaders say they are encouraged by separate federal and state efforts to increase funding for border transportation projects.

In Washington, D.C., the BTA is supporting language in the DRIVE Act which would allow states to use transportation dollars for border region projects. The group has thanked U.S Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar and Will Hurd for pushing this legislation.

In Austin, Texas, the BTA is delighted to see that tucked inside House Bill 1, the $209 billion two-year budget bill, is a provision that creates a new border infrastructure funding category within the Texas Department of Transportation. The BTA has praised state Sen. Juan Hinojosa for this provision.

Noe Garcia
Noe Garcia, III, president of the Border Trade Alliance.

The BTA was formed in 1986 to advocate for policies and initiatives designed to improve border affairs and trade relations among three nations, the United States, Mexico and Canada. Among the Rio Grande Valley leaders on the BTA board of directors are Starr Camargo International Bridge Company President and CEO Sam Vale, Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Bret Erickson, president of the Texas International Produce Association, Alex Meade, CEO of Mission Economic Development Corporation, Sergio Contreras, executive director of Pharr Economic Development Corporation, Rigo Villarreal, superintendent of international bridges for the City of McAllen, and Julian Alvarez, president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.

Noe Garcia, III, president of the BTA, spoke about the DRIVE Act in a recent op-ed. “Thanks to leaders in the Senate like Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Barbara Boxer and their colleagues in the House, Rep. Will Hurd, Rep. Henry Cuellar and Rep. Michael McCaul, the Senate bill would allow state department of transportation to spend dollars on infrastructure projects near the Mexico border that facilitate the movement of cross-border cargo, a vital feature of the previous program that was eliminated in MAP-21,” Garcia wrote.

“Such legislation recognizes the unique transportation needs of border communities, which are on the front lines of trade, but often find themselves battling with larger metropolitan areas for state transportation department’s attention and funds. It is not, however, a mandate on state departments of transportation, meaning governors and state DoTs maintain flexibility over the use of the funds.”

In a newsletter to BTA supporters, Garcia added: “The language in the DRIVE Act would give border states an opportunity to reserve limited federal resources for the unique challenges faced in the border region. Recognizing the complex design and delivery challenges facing these projects, the language would remove certain federal strings to better preserve border-focused resources for long-range needs.”

Garcia added that the DRIVE Act does not contain new, costly federal mandates, and instead allows Border States to place greater emphasis on border needs as they manage their critical highway and transportation corridors. “Governors and state departments of transportation would still retain the ability to invest additional funds in the border region, above those dedicated under this authority,” Garcia said.

With regard to efforts to improve border transportation funding at the state level, RGVP President Alvarez told the Rio Grande Guardian that a provision inserted into the state budget by Sen. Hinojosa that creates a new border infrastructure funding category within TxDOT is “huge” for the border region. Hinojosa is vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance.

Jesse Hereford, chairman of the BTA board of directors, agreed. “With dedicated federal resources for border infrastructure running dry, we are thankful that Texas is stepping up to address important issues like border infrastructure that the federal government is either unable or unwilling to take on,” Hereford said.

Hereford thanked Gov. Greg Abbott for allowing the transportation provision to remain in the state budget. He said the BTA worked closely with Sen. Hinojosa on the provision, as well as state Sens. José Rodriguez and Carlos Uresti.

According to the BTA, the idea for a TxDOT funding stream dedicated to border infrastructure got rolling in El Paso. In a news release, the BTA describes El Paso as a major Texas trade hub that has seen consistent infrastructure challenges.

“This new way to work with TxDOT to improve the infrastructure that is so central to our community’s economic health is a major win for the El Paso region,” Borderplex Alliance CEO and BTA Board Member Rolando Pablos said. “I want to thank state Sen. José Rodriguez for his vision to introduce the legislation that found its way into the final budget package. El Paso and the entire Texas-Mexico border region will benefit from this important new law.”

Rigo Villarreal, superintendent of the McAllen-Hidalgo and Anzalduas International Bridges.
Rigo Villarreal, superintendent of the McAllen-Hidalgo and Anzalduas international bridges.

Cameron County Judge Sepulveda said the state budget’s transportation language is an example of border-wide cooperation. “This legislation would not have been possible without a strong commitment to regional cooperation,” Sepulveda said. “The Texas-Mexico border is more competitive when our communities work together. Cameron County and the cities of McAllen, Pharr, Laredo, Del Rio, and the private Starr-Camargo International Bridge in Rio Grande City and El Paso’s Borderplex Alliance all worked to get this legislation across the finish line.”

Villarreal runs the McAllen-Hidalgo and Anzalduas international bridges in Hidalgo County. He said Hinojosa’s support was “integral” to the legislation reaching passage.

“The international bridges of our region are now poised to have new tools in our toolbox for ensuring our infrastructure keeps pace with the growing demands of today’s trade volumes,” Villarreal said. “Sen. Hinojosa deserves our thanks for his hard work to advance this bill to the governor’s desk. Here in McAllen, we appreciate Mayor Jim Darling, who played a key role in raising the profile of this important issue.”

Hereford, the BTA’s chairman, said his group will be working closely with TxDOT over the coming months as the rules and funding formulas under the new law take shape.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Jesse Hereford, chairman of the Border Trade Alliance board of directors.