WESLACO, RGV – U.S. Sen. John Cornyn says it is “completely unacceptable” that Interstate 2, which is part of the Rio Grande Valley’s official hurricane evacuation route, is impassable during heavy storms.
Cornyn heard about flooding on the expressway and its frontage roads during a flood mitigation roundtable discussion at the offices of Hidalgo County Precinct One.
In response to comments from Mercedes Mayor Henry Hinojosa, Cornyn said: “I was a little surprised to hear we have 500-year flood events every other year. That does not seem to fit the definition.”
Cornyn said Hinojosa was “reading the mind” of Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, Hidalgo County Precinct One Commissioner David Fuentes and himself when the mayor called for the leadership of the Texas Department of Transportation to visit the Valley.
“We talked about having Bruce Bugg, Jr., the chairman of TxDOT come down here because I agree with you, this is completely unacceptable to have highways impassable because they do not have adequate drainage,” Cornyn said.
Cornyn said Bugg was a good friend of his and that they had known each other for many years.
“This is important for public safety so we are going to do our best to get him down here and to point that out to him and hopefully get him to prioritize that,” Cornyn said.
Raul Sesin, Hidalgo County’s drainage district director, spoke about flooding on I-2 during his presentation at the roundtable discussion. Sesin pointed to dramatic photos on display at the event showing flooding on the Valley’s expressways.
“Accessibility (to the expressway) is one of our issues,” Sesin said. “I-2 is the evacuation route for the Valley. It was not accessible during the June event last year and this year.”
Sesin said Hidalgo County wanted to use its flood mitigation funds to leverage TXDOT’s funds “to impact the area on a grander scale.”
He added: “We are hopeful we can continue those communications with TxDOT.”
While a number of Valley leaders spoke at the roundtable discussion, Mayor Hinojosa’s remarks were the most blunt.
“We received 16 inches of rain in four hours, it was non-stop, and the expressway, which is a corridor to leave the Valley if we ever get a hurricane, was flooded as well. If it wasn’t for our two army trucks that our fire department has, we would not have been able to go up on the expressway to evacuate people,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa said TXDOT needs to “improve their drainage along the entire Valley.” He urged Sen. Cornyn to “put some pressure” on the head of TXDOT in Austin.
“Several weeks back there was a meeting over there with him, a delegation from the Valley went up there and it was like, he did not believe what was going on so he should come to the Valley,” Hinojosa said.
“I was hoping he could be here but I guess he was not invited. But, that is our one big issue – the expressway frontages draining inadequately and flooding homes and businesses.”
Hinojosa also complained that floodwaters within the Arroyo Colorado were flowing back into cities alongside I-2 because of overgrown vegetation.
“We need to focus our monies to correct that. I attribute all this to climate change. We have never had this in the Valley and now it is common place. Two major floods in one year and three days. That is unheard of.”
Victor Guerra, a rancher, said I-69 Central was also impassable during this June’s heavy rains.
“At one point the water did go over 281 and TXDOT was there for probably two weeks pumping water out and we had to utilize what I guess was the northbound lane for the southbound traffic. That is something we need to keep in mind from an evacuation standpoint if the situation does worsen. These are 500-year rains we are getting,” Guerra said.
The Rio Grande Guardian interviewed Commissioner Fuentes after the roundtable discussion had ended. Fuentes said he and other Valley leaders have pushed hard in Austin to get the interstate issue addressed.
“Even when Hurricane Harvey went up to the north, we went up and advocated with the Governor and Lt. Governor, the Texas Water Development Board, Texas Department of Emergency Management, the General Land Office, we went to every single state department we could go to, to tell them and explain to them just how critical the access to the expressway is. It is the hurricane evacuation route,” Fuentes said.
“The difficult part is, we cannot get from the north to the south, and in our area, Precinct One, we only have one hospital. And that is on the south side (of Weslaco). So, if you are on the north side of the city, you cannot bypass and get to the south.”
Fuentes pointed out that the National Guard Reserve, Border Patrol, and the City of Weslaco has operations and maintenance facilities on the north side of I-2.
“None of us can get down to the south without some sort of amphibian vehicle. We have been conveying to TXDOT how important this is. They are not in charge of drainage and they have never wanted to be in charge. But they are in charge of conveying water from one side of the expressway to the other. We should have a continuous flow of water. It keeps bottlenecking,” Fuentes said.
Asked about this year’s big flood event, Fuentes said:
“This June, we could not get across town for quite some time. Those motorists that were stranded on the expressway, they could not get on or get off the ramps. They were stranded. It is really critical. When we have floodwaters like that and we have citizens that have diabetes, that need treatment, that are being transported from the dialysis center, this is serious.”
Fuentes said it is time for state leaders to pay attention to the Valley.
“We are the seventh largest county in the state. We are an important piece of this state. For far too long our area has been seen as the people in the south, not really part of San Antonio or Austin. But, do you know what, our people deserve the same quality of life as everybody else. We are going to demand the same type of attention from our state and federal partners (as other parts of Texas gets). We are telling them these are critical issues.”
Editor’s Note: The above news story is the second in a four-part series that focuses on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s Oct. 14, 2019, visit to Hidalgo County. Click here to read Part One.