AUSTIN, Texas – State Rep. Terry Canales says a new statewide transportation program includes over $2.1 billion for the Pharr TxDOT District for transportation infrastructure over the next decade.

The Pharr TxDOT District includes Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr, Willacy, Zapata, Jim Hogg, Brooks, and Kenedy counties.

Canales, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation, spoke at the Texas Transportation Commission meeting that approved the ten-year, $77 billion, Unified Transportation Program (UTP). 

In his remarks, Canales said that when it comes to transportation infrastructure, the border region has been historically underfunded. He said the border region was a trade zone, not a war zone.

Other leaders from South Texas who spoke at the TTC meeting included state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Pharr Mayor and Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization Chairman Ambrosio Hernandez, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, and Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina.

In their remarks, Hinojosa, Canales and Hernandez urged TTC to reinstate the State Highway 550 and State Highway 365 projects in the UTP. The projects were to have been left out because they are toll projects. Currently, it is the policy of state leaders not to move forward with toll projects. 

However, the TTC board did agree with TXDOT staff recommendations to retain the SH 550 and SH 365 projects in the UTP. The SH 550 corridor project connects the Port of Brownsville to I-69E at Olmito. The SH 365 corridor project connects Pharr International Bridge to Anzalduas International Bridge.

Some of the highlights in the UTP for the Rio Grande Valley include:

  • U.S. 281, from FM 490 to the county line, build that out to interstate facility, $270 million
  • State Highway 68 from I-2 north which will end up completing at 490, $180 million
  • Ware Road, from State Highway 107 to Monte Cristo, $17 million
  • I-69/I-2 interchange, well over $200 million
  • I-69 E frontage road improvements, from FM 732 to Business 77, $18 million
  • State Highway 48, from State Highway 511 to State Highway 4, $28 million
  • State Highway 77, from the Arroyo Bridge to State Highway 345, $28 million.

In addition to $2.1 billion for the Pharr TXDOT District, Rep. Canales said South Texas should anticipate receiving a “sizable portion of funds” from the $3.5 billion from the TxDOT Bridge Division and $3.1 billion from the TxDOT Traffic Division. 

“I am exceptionally pleased that Chairman Bruce Bugg and the other Commissioners approved the 2020 UTP with such favorable funding allocations for South Texas. After many long meetings and phone calls with TxDOT and the Commission, I truly believe that our message about the importance of the Rio Grande Valley infrastructure in international commerce was well received,” Rep. Canales said.

“We are scheduled to obtain over 2.1 billion dollars in transportation investment, just in our region, over the next ten years. This is an incredible amount of infrastructure dollars for the RGV. This money is going to help ensure the prosperity of South Texas residents for the next half-century or more.”

Canales pointed out that TxDOT is required by law to create an annual statewide infrastructure game plan, known as the Uniform Transportation Program, to schedule transportation infrastructure developments across the state. 

To see the approved 2020 UTP, click here.

Sen. Hinojosa is a member of the Senate Committee on Transportation. He said the TTC approved more than $388 million for new construction projects in Hidalgo County under the 2020 Unified Transportation Program. Hinojosa pointed out that UTP authorizes projects involving highways, aviation, public transportation, and state and coastal waterways for construction, development and planning activities.

Hinojosa listed some of the newly authorized projects approved for Hidalgo County:

  • $194 million – US 281 in Hidalgo County – Upgrade to interstate standards
  • $180 million ($124.4 million increase from previous UTP) for SH 68
  • $11.4 million – Anzalduas International Port of Entry

Hinojosa said:

“I appreciate the Texas Transportation Commission’s unanimous vote today to approve the 2020 Unified Transportation Program. Once again, the revised and approved UTP, continues to invest in our fast growing region. Infrastructure is key to continue the economic growth of South Texas. I appreciate the Commission and TxDOT leadership for working with me and our community leaders to continue their support of our transportation needs not only by re-authorizing the SH 365 and SH 550 projects but also for the additional $388 million in new funds for transportation projects in Hidalgo County including upgrading US 281 to interstate standards. The 2020 UTP will greatly help our transportation needs in the Rio Grande Valley.”

In his remarks, Mayor Hernandez of Pharr said the TTC board was making history and that he was very grateful for the investment being made in South Texas.

“As far as the RGV MPO (is concerned), the only issue we have is to be treated equally and fairly, as everybody else is in the state of Texas,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said there are two projects in the Pharr TXDOT Region that are “critical” to the state of Texas and the nation, SH 365 and SH 550. “We have a large amount of commerce that goes through our entire ports. This affects everybody. We are your partners in crime so to speak, because we will put our money down on the table to help them come along.”

The Rio Grande Guardian interviewed Pete Sepulveda at the TTC meeting. Sepulveda is executive director of Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority.

“The recommendation from staff is for 550 to remain in UTP. It is great. It is the last gap that we need to complete to have an interstate corridor from I-69 E in Olmito to the Port of Brownsville. It is great news. We want to get to work on that last gap,” Sepulveda said.

Asked why the SH 550 project and the SH 365 project had initially been excluded from the UTP, Sepulveda said: “They are both toll projects and a change in the toll policy of TxDOT would not allow us to proceed with state funds for those projects.”

Sepulveda said he was thrilled to see TTC reverse its policy on tolls, if only for the SH 550 project.

“This means we have a fully funded project. We can proceed to complete the redesign to make it interstate standard and then proceed to a construction phase,” Sepulveda said.

“Taking an interstate to the Port of Brownsville is something that is very important. With all the LNG activity, a steel mill possibility, deepening the channel at the Port of Brownsville, it is just important they have an interstate corridor to the port.”

There was no mention in UTP of funding a second causeway to South Padre Island. Sepulveda said this is because it is a proposed toll project.

“That is still on hold,” Sepulveda said of the Second Causeway project. “Depending on what happens today we will proceed with starting a dialogue with TxDOT and see if there is an opportunity for us to continue work on that project.” 

Sepulveda added: “We are using 100 percent state funds on that (second causeway) project.”