SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – This week’s assault on the U.S. Capitol has likely scuppered chances of securing hundreds of millions of dollars for a second causeway for South Padre Island before President Trump leaves office, advocates said.
A couple of weeks ago, advocates for the causeway project thought they might be able to broker a deal with President Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
But, the storming of the nation’s Capitol by Trump supporters on Wednesday has all but put an end to that possibility. The fallout has led to calls for Trump and Cruz to follow Chao’s lead and resign. Trump has been urged to resign by Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, among others. Cruz has been urged to resign by the Houston Chronicle, among others.
The plan was to ask Cruz to urge Trump to issue an executive order to build the second causeway with monies unused from the government’s border wall account. In return, the second causeway would have been named for Trump.
“I do not mind who the bridge is named after, and I say that respectfully,” said state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. “It does not matter what name it carries. What matters is we get it done. If President Trump wants to help us before he leaves office, I am all for it.”
Even if the bridge is named for Trump? Lucio was asked. “If that is what people want to name it, after President Trump, or Governor Abbott, that is fine with me. I am not going to be critical who we name it for. I will just be happy we are doing the project.”
The problem with these quotes from Sen. Lucio, said longtime radio and television broadcaster and public policy advocate Ron Whitlock, is that they came the same day the nation’s Capitol was breached by domestic terrorists.
“We were all set to go. We thought we had leverage with Sen. Cruz because he and Trump had failed to deliver on their promise of a major infrastructure bill. And, we thought, Trump would want to repay Cruz for his loyalty,” Whitlock said.
“Now, all that is out of the window and we are going to have to pin our hopes on the new Biden Administration.”
Whitlock said the hope was that Trump would find $750,000 for the second causeway project. He said that would have been great symmetry because he got that much from the Johnson Administration to fix the Rio Grande Valley’s levees in the 1960s, after Hurricane Beulah, and the same amount from the Obama Administration, also to once again fix the levees in the 2010s.
“I had an in-depth conversation with Senator Cruz soon after President Trump was elected. He was confident an infrastructure bill would get passed and that would be the vehicle through which environmental laws would be somewhat skirted so we could build the second causeway,” Whitlock said.
“The failure to pass the infrastructure bill was one of the biggest disappointments of the Trump presidency.”
The second causeway project is one of the top economic development projects for the RGV Metropolitan Planning Organization and Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority.
Whitlock said hopes have been raised that funding for the project can be found at the state level and at the national level.
“At the state level, Governor Abbott has said the next biennium will have a bigger budget than the current one. That is good news. And, we have Senator Lucio as vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance,” Whitlock said.
“At the national level, we know Biden wants to pass a major infrastructure bill, soon into his presidency. The key thing for us is to make sure the second causeway is shovel-ready when the bill is passed.”
South Padre Island City Council member Joe Ricco said he believes $250,000 to $500,000 is still needed to pay for environmental studies. “We have to resurrect this project and get these studies done,” he told the Rio Grande Guardian.
Ricco said he would have been happy with part of the second causeway being named for Trump and part being named for Lucio.
“We could have the road coming onto the island named for Senator Lucio and road leaving the island named for Trump, Ricco said.
Whitlock said President Trump might be now “too weakened” to think he can help the Valley land the second causeway.
“We all know President Trump wanted to have some bridges, airports or highways named in his honor. And it could have happened with our bridge. Sen. Lucio, Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino, Jr., and Texas Democratic Party Chairman and former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa all told me they were ready to play a round of golf with the president at Mar-a-Lago if it furthered the cause of the second causeway.”
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