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PHARR, RGV – The leaders of Pharr and Edinburg say the expansion of Owassa Road between Jackson Road and I-69 Central is another example of neighboring cities collaborating on key projects.

“We are neighbors here, we hold hands and we grow together; everything that we do in our cities is regional,” Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia told the Rio Grande Guardian.

More than 10,000 vehicles pass through Owassa Road daily. Mayor Garcia and Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez of Pharr argue that the current two-lane road slows down traffic flow, affecting passenger and commercial vehicle commutes for drivers throughout the region.

“This is one of the most congested areas of the county,” Hernandez told the Rio Grande Guardian. “With the help of all of our MPO colleagues, with the help of TxDOT, with the help of our great city leadership, and with the help of the city of Edinburg, things are going to get better. We will have four lanes instead of two and traffic will move faster.”

The “MPO” Hernandez refers to is Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization. It is a federally funded agency that works with Hidalgo County communities and the Texas Department of Transportation to plan for the county’s future transportation needs. Under federal law, every metropolitan area with a population of 50,000 must have a designated Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Mayors Hernandez and Garcia held a groundbreaking ceremony with TxDOT on Thursday for the Owassa Road project. As vehicles and commercial traffic raced by on the narrow road in the background, Hernandez noted that there had long been a need for roadway expansion and improvements on Owassa Road. He pointed out that since 2012, the project had not gained much traction. He said that when he took office in 2015 he made it a priority and was able to “successfully fast-track” the project.

“The expansion of this project from two lanes to four lanes will enhance the flow of traffic along this road, improve the safety conditions of vehicular traffic, and overall, help our cities grow and prosper,” Hernandez said. “We are proud to lead the effort with this project and we are grateful for the great partnerships and support we have with the City of Edinburg, TxDOT, the MPO and Hidalgo County.”

When the project is complete, drivers will find it easier to reach Doctors Hospital at Renaissance from I-69 Central. Asked if he could see Edinburg-based DHR expanding into Pharr as it has McAllen, Mayor Hernandez, a physician owner at the hospital, told the Rio Grande Guardian: “The city leadership in Pharr is always looking for economic development, investment, whether it be in healthcare and the private sector, or entertainment, we welcome it all, we welcome all opportunities.”

Hernandez added: “We look forward to continuing these partnerships that make transportation infrastructure improvements a priority for our area, and we will continue to work together to provide safe, smooth, and reliable roadways for all our citizens.”

Mayor Garcia agreed with Mayor Hernandez that the expansion and improvement of Owassa Road is a key project for Hidalgo County. Garcia thanked Hernandez, not only for his leadership in Pharr but also for his work on Hidalgo County MPO. “This avenue is a main artery in our cities and he was the person that led the charge and took care of this project,” Garcia stated.

The expansion and improvement of Owassa Road will cover approximately 2.2 miles of roadway, with the existing 22-foot of roadway widened to 66 feet. The total project cost is approximately $6.2 million and includes roadway construction, utility improvement and right-of-way acquisition.

The project is part of the Hidalgo County MPO’s 2015 – 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. Funding for the project is made possible through Category 7 and Category 12 funds from the Texas Department of Transportation.

Mayor Hernandez pointed out that normally, the project would require a 20 percent match from the local municipality, but because this project qualifies under the Economically Disadvantaged County Program, the City of Pharr will only responsible for one percent of the roadway construction cost.

Owassa Road was temporarily closed this week to relocate utilities. However, it is anticipated that the road will remain opened to the public during the construction of the project, which is expected to take approximately 22 months.

Attendees at a ceremony on Thursday included Mayors Hernandez and Garcia, Pharr City Commissioners Ricardo Medina and Eleazar Guajardo, Edinburg Councilmembers David Torres and Ricardo Medina, TxDOT Pharr District Deputy Engineer Hector Gonzalez, Hidalgo County MPO Director Andrew Canon, and Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios’ Chief Administrator Jose Caso.