MCALLEN, Texas – Additional funding for the South Padre Island 2nd Causeway project could be obtained through a new discretionary grant program allied to the infrastructure spending legislation recently passed by Congress.
This is the view of Andrew Canon, executive director of the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Canon recently spoke about the new infrastructure spending bill at a McAllen Economic Development Corporation board meeting, running through some of the preliminary numbers for the State of Texas.
“On highway construction, we are looking at $27 billion over five years. General appropriation funds, $945 million. Rural transit, S450 million. $390 million for aviation. So, it is about $28.7 billion and a $1.14 billion a year increase over what we were receiving for 2020/21. It is pretty significant. We are waiting to see how that trickles down to the metropolitan areas,” said Canon (pictured above).
Canon said there are also some new discretionary grant programs.
“A little over $9 billion for bridge replacement, which is much needed around the state. One that we are really excited about, hopefully, moving forward, is over $5 billion for national infrastructure projects assistance for mega projects. These are projects that are large dollar value projects for economically disadvantaged areas. We are hoping to look more into this with the Cameron County RMA for the second causeway for SPI, since it is a safety issue and an economic issue for the island.”
RMA stands for Regional Mobility Authority.
Canon told the MEDC board: “I have never seen this much money before in 20 years of doing this now.”
The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service interviewed Canon after the MEDC board meeting had concluded. The focus of the interview was funding for the second causeway project and the related I-69 Connector project.
“The federal government has a discretionary grant program, which is $5 billion for national infrastructure projects,” Canon said. “We are hopeful that that might be one of the programs that we could tap into with the Cameron County RMA to seek some funding for the construction of the second causeway.”
Canon said he was hopeful of securing funding from this new discretionary pot of money because the SPI 2nd Causeway project satisfies the purpose of the grant program.
“It is a safety initiative and it is an economic initiative. And now, with the I-69 Connector moving forward and picking up momentum, that (the 2nd Causeway project) really needs to be done to complete that connector because the connector is nice but other than truck traffic I don’t foresee a lot of traffic on there until we open up the causeway so it would attract greater pedestrian traffic as well.”
The I-69 Connector project is a proposal under consideration by the Texas Department of Transportation for a new highway between I-69 Central, north of Edinburg, and I-69 East, north of Harlingen.
“They compliment each other very well,” Canon said of the 2nd Causeway project and the I-69 Connector project.
“It would really be a Godsend if we could work with the government and get one of these grants to be able to move the project forward because Cameron County RMA is picking up the expense to try to finish the environmental process. They are fully committed to it on that end,” Canon said.
“So, once that environmental process is wrapped up and they get the okay to move forward, it sure would be nice to have some type of funding opportunities in the back pocket to get that going.”
Canon said the new discretionary grants program is deemed essential in the northeast of the United States because that region has aging transportation infrastructure. “But, we want to capture some of those dollars down here. And we think that with the people that we have in the House and in the Senate, some good conversations could take place to try to capture some of those funds. We are hopeful.”
Asked how much funding the Cameron County RMA and the RGV MPO could get for the SPI 2nd Causeway project from this new discretionary grant program, and how much the new causeway might cost, Canon said:
“I have no idea how much we could get just yet. That is for some backroom conversations we would have with our delegates (in D.C.). As far as the cost is concerned, I have heard it could be $600 to $700 million. We are talking five-plus miles across the bay. Any time you are building over water it is quite expensive. There are environmental impacts that have to be taken into consideration with the construction. It is very fragile so I know they are mindful of that. It does not make it any cheaper.”
Canon was asked to explain in more depth the I-69 Connector project.
“The public involvement period is just wrapping up. It has been held virtually and has been very informative. TxDOT has to engage the public, go through the environmental process, and find a preferred alignment. That has not been done yet,” Canon said.
“But as they move closer and closer to those phases, then it will pick up more momentum from the public. Especially from the commercial side. If we have trucks that are coming down from Houston, coming down 77 or I-69 E, and they need to get over to the McAllen area, they would not have to come all the way down to Interstate 2 and go through all the communities. They would be able to go on the I-69 Connector all the way to I-69 C, come down and, guess what, they are there.”
Canon said the I-69 Connector is important from a safety perspective.
“We keep those trucks out of our communities. As trade from the Pharr Bridge increases… we heard this morning about Anzaladuas, with the cargo… as those continue to move forward and we have trucks coming across, maybe they are going to the Houston port or the Corpus port or up to Louisiana, this gives them an opportunity to go straight up I-69 C, hit the connector, move over to I-69 E, and they are moving along.”
Canon said it could take ten years before the I-69 Connector is built.
“Ten years is not a lot of time when planning for new highways. Look how long it took to get the La Joya Bypass going. That was being planned 18 years when I started at the MPO.”
It was put to Canon that such forward thinking was necessary because the Valley is growing so fast.
“Oh my God, yes. Look at us. It was like what Keith was saying this morning with the number of the companies they have that contribute to SpaceX and to Tesla. It shows how connected we are from the west to the east side. As this commerce continues to grow, more and more infrastructure is going to be needed,” Canon said.
Canon was referencing Keith Patridge, president of the McAllen EDC.
“We are not going to be able to do much more with Interstate 2. It is what it is. It is as wide as I think it can possibly be. So when we can come up with alternatives and even other projects like the Nolana Loop and Trenton, maybe in the future looking at expanding that, but definitely Monte Cristo with the I-69, 1925 area connector, and State Highway 68, which people are not talking about very much, it is very helpful.”
Canon said state Rep. Armando Martinez of Weslaco deserves praise for coming up with the funding for the State Highway 68 project. It will run from I-2 in Alamo to I-69 C in northern Edinburg.
“Rep. Martinez brought some funding down to do the environmental (studies). That is all taken care of and now we are looking at construction in the near term future. It connects almost exactly with the IBTC (International Bridge Trade Corridor) project that the Hidalgo County RMA is doing. So, their project is to move trucks out of Pharr, out of Donna, quickly, safely, put them on this high speed facility that hopefully connects up with State Highway 68 and that curves up around I-69 C. And it provides an opportunity to connect up with the I-69 Connector.”