McALLEN, RGV – Two transportation entities are working together to expand a farm to market road into a thoroughfare that will help connect the Tres Lagos master-planned community in north McAllen to a second causeway to South Padre Island.
Pete Sepulveda, Jr., executive director of Cameron Regional Mobility Authority, traveled to Austin, Texas, last week for further discussions about the FM 1925 project.
Sepulveda said his RMA, along with the RMA for Hidalgo County are partnering with the Texas Department of Transportation to get environmental clearance for the project, which will run from Edinburg to I-69 East, just north of Harlingen.
“We are about to enter a partnership with TxDOT and the Hidalgo County RMA to start on the environmental process of the segment from I-69 East, just north of Harlingen, all the way to Edinburg,” Sepulveda said, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian.
With support from the Legislature and TxDOT, Sepulveda believes the construction process could be expedited.
“There is a lot of momentum that we are picking up and having the support of the vice chair from the House transportation committee and TxDOT, we can expedite the different phases that we need to go through,” Sepulveda said. “We are very excited about this project.”
State Rep. Armando Martinez of Weslaco is vice chairman of the House Committee on Transportation. His legislation, House Bill 1796, currently working its way through the Legislature, would allow for comprehensive development agreements (CDAs) to be undertaken with TxDOT on certain projects in Cameron and Hidalgo counties.
Those projects include:
- the Outer Parkway project in Cameron County from U.S. Highway 77 to Farm-to-Market Road 1847;
- the South Padre Island Second Access Causeway project from State Highway 100 to Park Road 100;
- the Hidalgo County Loop project;
- the International Bridge Trade Corridor project;
- the Farm-to-Market 1925 project in Cameron and Hidalgo counties;
- the U.S. Highway 83 La Joya Relief Route project in Hidalgo County;
- the State Highway 68 project in Hidalgo County;
TxDOT defines a comprehensive development agreement as “a tool TxDOT uses to enable private development by sharing the risks and responsibilities of design and construction.” In some cases, TxDOT says, financing and private investment in the transportation system can be included in the process. “It provides a competitive selection process for developing regional projects or much larger undertakings. In addition, this contracting tool can streamline the time needed to deliver the project because multiple tasks can be under way simultaneously,” TxDOT states.
In order to build a major thoroughfare from Tres Lagos all the way to South Padre Island, comprehensive development agreements will likely be needed for the Outer Parkway project, the FM 1925 project, and a Second Access Causeway, Sepulveda said.
The Outer Parkway project is estimated to cost $180 million. The FM 1925 project is estimated to cost $120 million.
Martinez’s bill, if passed, would allow public-private partnerships to be established to fund the projects, Sepulveda explained.
“That means that we can do a public-private partnership if we need to, to bring in funding from the private sector. That’s huge for the FM 1925 project, if we can get the project included in the CDA bill.”
Speaking to the Rio Grande Guardian before his trip to Austin, Sepulveda said: “I will be meeting with TxDOT folks in Austin, trying to make sure they are prepared to move forward with recommendations. I think if TxDOT is prepared, we can see a lot of activity on a new path in moving forward with this project. The end result would be mitigation that is a lot more doable, and a lot more reasonable.”
Sepulveda said the environmental phase will stay at the proposed 12- to 18-month time frame.
Having another corridor to South Padre Island is important, Sepulveda said, when traffic flows are taken into account. After conducting a traffic and revenues studies, Cameron County RMA found 45 percent of traffic traveling to South Padre Island originated in Hidalgo County.
Sepulveda said a second causeway to South Padre Island is one of the major transportation projects for the Rio Grande Valley. “The second causeway to South Padre Island is going to be huge for growth and economic development,” Sepulveda said.
A second bridge to SPI is still a few years away and depends on financing options, Sepulveda said.
“If we go around the private sector, it might be quicker because the private sector wants to start making money as soon as possible, but if we go the traditional method of funding projects through TxDOT, it may take a little bit longer,” he said.
Sepulveda said it does not automatically follow that if the private sector funded the project, the Second Causeway would be a toll road.
“Right now, what we are focused on is the environmental phase because if we can get that clearance, we can expedite the design, expedite the acquisition and construction.”
As with other transportation projects, Sepulveda said unity among all the key stakeholders in the Valley is key.
“We think going to TxDOT, as one voice in the whole room for the Rio Grande Valley stating that this is our top priority, this is our top project, is the way to go.”
“I think we can get our transportation commission to support us. As opposed to the commission hearing from one end of the Valley and then the other end.”
Sepulveda added: “We are very excited about this, about the engineering recommendations and I know that TxDOT is receptive of all. We just need to make one last charge with it, stay focused and get it done.”