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BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Increasingly confident they will secure environmental clearance for a second causeway to South Padre Island, Cameron County leaders are about to start talks with developers on how the bridge might get built.

CCRMA has organized an Industry Outreach Meeting for March 1 on South Padre Island.

Pete Sepulveda, Jr.
Pete Sepulveda, Jr.

“The industry outreach meetings really mark the beginning of the procurement process. So for the South Padre Island project these meetings really allow us to go out to the industry and in an organized way present the facts that we have on the project and then get feedback,” Adrian Rincones, CCRMA’s chief financial officer told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Rincones said the proposed 2nd Access Project consists of three components: the mainland roadway, the Laguna Madre crossing bridge and the island roadway. Asked to define procurement, Rincones said it is the method by which CCRMA works on the finance of the project with developers and how those developers would like to build the project out.

“For those developers that are interested, we will set up one on one meetings with them, three or four weeks afterwards. We allow them to give us feedback – what they think about the three components, whether we should do them together, whether we should do them individually, how should we package things financially. It is a very significant step in the process,” Rincones said.

Rincones said it will take a couple of months to finish the one-on-one meetings with prospective developers. “After that we will start the RFQ (request for qualifications) process, which could take a year to a year and a half. So, depending on what our feedback is, then we will set a date for the RFQ.”

Adrian Rincones
Adrian Rincones

Asked how important the 2nd Access Project is for the Rio Grande Valley, Rincones said: “Well, first It is a safety and mobility issue because there will be a second bridge to and from the Island. We also know it will spur development on the Island. It is one of those projects where we have had great public support and everybody is just waiting for it to get built. This milestone is really significant. The fact that we are getting closer to getting the deal done with the developer, it just gets us closer to construction.”

Rincones said the aim is to have a connector, FM 1925, built from Edinburg to the Cameron County Outer Parkway at the same time the 2nd Causeway is built, so that residents in Hidalgo County can have easy access to South Padre Island. “If you have that connection from the west, connected to our Outer Parkway project and on to the second access bridge, it works well together. We want to time them so they all come together at the same time.”

Rincones added: “We are excited about the project. We have a lot of interested developers. We have developers from all over the world that are interested in this project. They want to invest in the U.S. We expect a lot of feedback, a lot of participation from these large developers.”

Interim Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda, Jr., said completion of an environmental clearance document for the 2nd Access Project is anticipated in the fall of 2016. Sepulveda told the Rio Grande Guardian that when his stint as county judge ends he will go back to concentrating on getting the 2nd Access Project developed. Previously, Sepulveda was executive director of CCRMA.

“When I am no longer county judge I can concentrate on constructing a second causeway from the mainland to South Padre Island. I think it is one of the biggest priorities for the Rio Grande Valley. We need that second access to provide development, to provide employment opportunities for our constituents here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Sepulveda said.

“Hopefully I will be able to focus more on transportation and get these regional projects going between Cameron and Hidalgo counties, get them going and under construction so we can have orderly growth and development. We want to maximize the benefits of industry coming in, SpaceX, LNG, UTRGV. We need all of this need complimentary infrastructure to be in place for us to be able to benefit from those kinds of developments.”

Sepulveda said Cameron County is “deep into the environmental process” for the second causeway.

“As a matter of fact on March 1 we are having an industry review meeting at SPI to see what type of interest there is out there in the industry. That is the first step towards procuring a development agreement with a private developer to assist us in closing the financial gap. Not only from the RMA standpoint but from a TXDOT standpoint also. They gave us the green light to proceed with that meeting. That means both of us have the same comfort level that we will get environment clearance of the project.”

Sepulveda said any developer interested in attending the March 1 Industry Outreach Meeting can contact the CCRMA at (956) 621-5571 or [email protected].

Interstate 169, from Olmito to the Port of Brownsville

Sepulveda made his comments about the second causeway to South Padre Island the same week the CCRMA unveiled signage with TXDOT for a new interstate linking I-69 East at Olmito to the Port of Brownsville. The interstate will be known as I-169. Among the dignitaries present for the signage unveiling were Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., state Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Tryon D. Lewis and TxDOT executive director James Bass.

“The entire route is designated as Interstate 169, however, about one and a half miles already meet interstate standards. That is why TxDOT allowed us to sign that portion of the road. We are getting one step closer to having an interstate all the way to the Port of Brownsville,” Sepulveda said.

“The Port is a deep water port for the whole Rio Grande Valley and South Texas. It is strategically important to have interstate access to and from the Port of Brownsville. Every little section we are able to sign, we get closer to the ultimate, which is having the entire route signed as an interstate highway.”

Sepulveda said having an interstate connection to the Port of Brownsville allows truck drivers to avoid four-way stop signs and signal lights. “You are able to get to your destination a lot faster. It is a lot safer and less congested. If you are taking products in and out of the Port that is important because you get out of the Port, you get on the interstate highway and you connect to I-63 E at Olmito and you are off to your final destination wherever it might be in the state or the nation. It is also extremely valuable when you are trying to lure industry to the port or into the community. You are able to tell industry, well we have an interstate that comes down into the Rio Grande Valley.”

Editor’s Note: The main images accompanying this story show Cameron County RMA, TxDOT and state leaders meeting to discuss and unveil the signage for the new I-169 route from Olmito to the Port of Brownsville.