WESLACO, RGV – A top transportation official in the Rio Grande Valley predicts the Edcouch-Elsa area will become very popular for motorists once reconstruction of the U.S. 83/U.S. 281 Pharr Interchange gets underway.

Andrew Canon, director of Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization, believes Highway 107, which runs from Edinburg in the west to Combes in the east, and takes in the rural communities of San Carlos, La Blanca, Elsa, Edcouch, La Villa, and Santa Rosa, will be an alternative route for drivers that want to avoid inevitable bottlenecks on U.S. 83 and U.S. 281.

The good news, however, is that the Pharr Interchange project will likely be complete by 2023, and not 2025 as first envisaged.

Andrew Canon, director of Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization, speaks at a Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council meeting.

Canon spoke about the big reconstruction project at a Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council meeting last Wednesday. Asked how bad the congestion could get, Canon said: “What I would offer on that is, everyone should appreciate what they have right now.” Many LRGVDC board members chuckled when he said this.

“I understand that it becomes congested. I drive it southbound and northbound every day. I live in far north McAllen,” said Canon, whose office is in Weslaco. “But yes, we are looking at a total reconstruct of the interchange system to two lanes because what you have there is not simply the addition of the lanes.”

Elaborating on this point, Canon said the way U.S. 83 was constructed was unique by Valley standards. “On the egress and regress… we have exit ramps immediately after some of the ramps, we have on ramps immediately before the ramps, so, it is not as simple as going in and adding a second lane. I suppose the Edcouch-Elsa area is going to become very popular during that time.”

Pete Alvarez

Canon brought up the subject of the Pharr Interchange project during his monthly report because he recently attended a Texas Transportation Commission meeting in Austin with Pete Alvarez, the Texas Department of Transportation’s district engineer for the Valley.

“Senator Hinojosa spoke for us (at the TTC meeting),” Canon said. “We were able to secure TXDOT allowing for an RFQ (request for qualifications) process on the interchange. That’s a total construction amount of about $320 million. I am pretty happy that the Hidalgo County MPO has a vested interest of $20 million, so, we are going to be 15-1 on our money, on the return for investment on that effort.”

Canon said he is negotiating with TXDOT to bring in other discretionary funds for the project.

“The really nice thing about that is once that gets started underway we are looking at an end construction of 2023, as opposed to 2025, going through a design-build process. We are very excited. We think the RFQ will be secured this year, that will be narrowed down on the list and then TXDOT will approve going out for an RFP (request for proposals) on the engineers to start on that project and get that underway. And, as most of you know, the design build process does expedite the matter a lot quicker, so they are able to design and build at the same time.”

Canon added: “I am pretty happy about the 15-1 return on the investment, that my board has approved.”

TxDOT released a news release about the RFQ process for the Pharr Interchange project. The news release described the project as a “full reconstruction” of U.S. 83/U.S. 281. “The design-build contract to reconstruct the Pharr Interchange is estimated to cost $150 million,” the news release stated. It added:

“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.”

Juan Hinojosa

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is a member of the Senate Committee on Transportation. He helped secure funding for the project. Hinojosa said TxDOT will now be accepting proposals from entities to enter into a design-build contract to reconstruct the Pharr Interchange.

“This is a significant step forward for the reconstruction of the Pharr Interchange that will benefit the entire Rio Grande Valley region. I appreciate the Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT leadership, and our local public officials for their tireless efforts in advocating for this project, which will now be a reality,” Hinojosa said.

“For too long, we have known that the initial design of the Pharr Interchange was not made for the growth we have experienced in the RGV and created a big congestion problem in Hidalgo County. The Pharr Interchange is a key intersection that helps keep people and goods moving, and this project will not only address current congestion but will better prepare us for future growth. The reconstruction of this interchange will help the Texas economy and improve the quality of life for our RGV residents.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows the U.S. 83/U.S. 281 Pharr Interchange.