WESLACO, RGV – U.S. Sen. John Cornyn says he will speak to Transportation Secretary Elaine Lan Chao about getting more federal funding to the Rio Grande Valley.
Texas’ senior senator made the commitment at a roundtable discussion on international trade, held Oct. 14 at Ci Logistics’ cotton warehouse in Weslaco.
The issue of infrastructure dollars and fair treatment for Texas came up when Rigo Villarreal, superintendent of bridges for the City of McAllen, pointed out that the Lone Star State fared badly when it came to Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program awards.
Cornyn agreed with Villarreal that it was “ridiculous” that Texas only received $8.7 million out of $856 million. The City of McAllen was looking for $25 million for infrastructure projects at Anzalduas International Bridge. It got nothing.
INFRA grants are awarded by the Department of Transportation. In late September, the department announced $855,950,000 in proposed INFRA grants.
“This significant federal investment will improve major highways, bridges, ports, and railroads around the country to better connect our communities, and to enhance safety and economic growth,” said Secretary Chao.
The problem is Texas only got $8.7 million out of the $856 million. The $8.7 million was awarded to the North Central Council of Governments and TxDOT for a series of seven projects involving seven bridges in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Alabama and Maryland each received $125 million in INFRA grants. Arizona got $90 million, California got $90 million, and Space Florida got $90 million.
(Editor’s Note: Click here to read the Secretary Chao’s news release. It includes a breakdown on how the $856 million was divvied up.)
In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Villarreal said the City of McAllen brought Texas A&M University in to help with its application for INFRA grants, spending $38,000 in the process.
“We applied for $25 million. We would have used it for northbound and southbound cargo construction facilities at Anzalduas International Bridge,” Villarreal said.
The City of McAllen has been trying to get funding for cargo traffic at Anzalduas for years. The city’s plans have the strong backing of Reynosa’s maquiladora industry because many of their manufacturing plants are on the west side of the city and Anzalduas is the nearest international bridge.
In his remarks at the international trade roundtable discussion, Villarreal said:
“We have applied for some federal grants, INFRA grant monies. In the last round we had only $8.7 million awarded statewide, while other states are gaining $80 million, $100 million, $150 million. The whole state of Texas got $8.7 million and I think that project was TxDOT’s. How can we compete with TxDOT? We cannot compete with TXDOT.”
Villarreal said he believed the Department of Transportation was neglecting to invest in the border region.
“Not only is that affecting us, I think the federal Department of Transportation is not paying attention the way they should. I do not know if they do not know the area. We sent a lot of support letters and so did Pharr and other communities. But, we still do not get anything. I do not know why but it is very disappointing. We spent a lot of money putting these applications together. We spent $38,000 to put it together.”
Villarreal said he called the Department of Transportation to ask why McAllen’s application was overlooked.
“We had a little review over the phone, a conference review, and I asked them how much other states got. That ($8.7 million) is statewide, senator, that is ridiculous.”
Sen. Cornyn responded: “It is.”
Villarreal added: “As a U.S. senator you do not have to say South Texas did not get anything. Basically, the whole state of Texas did not get anything. I think they need to pay a little bit more attention to us, particularly on the border. I don’t think they understand it. Maybe they think we are going to spend the money on illegal immigrants.”
There was a lot of laughs when Villarreal said that.
“I don’t know. But, clearly they do not know what is going on down here,” he said.
In response, Sen. Cornyn said: “Well, the majority leader’s wife is the secretary of transportation and she has been very receptive when I have talked to her in the past. I will certainly be happy to raise that issue and point out the disparity. That is not acceptable.”
Secretary Chao is married to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, is Senate majority leader.
The roundtable discussion started with an introduction by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez. Joaquin Spamer, owner of Ci Logistics, spoke at the event, which followed a tour of his cotton warehouse facility.
In addition to Spamer, Cortez, Cornyn and Villarreal, other VIPs to spoke at the roundtable discussion were Armando O’Caña, mayor of Mission, Julian Gonzalez, city manager for Hidalgo, Randy Perez, city manager for Mission, Steve Valdez, a director for Weslaco Economic Development Corporation, Luis Bazan, bridge director for the City of Pharr, Alex Meade, city manager for Pharr, and Marga Lopez, director of Progreso International Bridge.
Darling: I Am Tired of Waiting
MCALLEN, RGV – The issue of federal funding for Anzalduas International Bridge also came up at last week’s McAllen Economic Development Corporation board meeting.
In his monthly report to the board, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said he has got fed up waiting for the federal and state governments to help fund infrastructure projects at Anzalduas. He said he has put in motion a plan for McAllen to fund the infrastructure needed for the bridge to take northbound and southbound cargo traffic.
“We are reconstructing our bridge board,” Darling told MEDC. “As far as funding the new cargo facility at Anzalduas, we have kind of run into a brick wall with the federal government. We have a grant pending. We were just told we got knocked out of that because the federal government owns the property. They just forgot we gave it to the federal government first but we are working through that.
“Also, we did not get funding at the state level. So, I recommended to the board that I am tired of waiting. So, we have authorized $4 million to do the engineering on the bridge. We will pass that Monday. So, hopefully we will have the cargo facilities built in 18 months or less.”
The board of directors heard about a recent trip Darling and MEDC leaders made to China. Darling said if McAllen wants to attract manufacturing companies from China it is imperative Anzalduas International Bridge is upgraded.
“It is very important, if we are going to China to recruit Chinese companies, we cannot have ten-hour waits at the Pharr Bridge. If we have to build it and pay for the whole bridge we will do that, either through bridge funds or development corp funds. We are going to do that, regardless of federal money.”
Darling said he was also excited to report that McAllen’s development corporation sales tax board has been restructured. He said it now consists of a board of directors with the majority coming from the city commission. In addition to Darling, the board includes City Commissioners Seby Haddad, Tania Ramirez, and Omar Quintanilla.
“Our first meeting is next week and I am exited to say we are going to focus more on economic development than we have in the past. In the past we have done city projects, drainage, not economic development. It is an exciting process for us.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Elaine Lan Chao at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit 2018 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Oct. 2, 2018. (Photo Credit: Phillip Faraone)