HARLINGEN, Texas – A candidate for Texas House District 37 says he has a commitment for the Texas House Committee on Transportation to hold a hearing in Willacy County.

The panel would meet in the poorest county in Texas in order to hear testimony on why a four-lane highway is needed between State Highway 77 in Raymondville and Port Mansfield on the Gulf of Mexico. 

HD 37 candidate Ruben Cortez said State Highway 186 needs to be expanded and reinforced to overweight corridor status between the port and SH 77 because of the increased truck traffic expected to be generated at Port Mansfield. 

“Dredging the Port Mansfield ship channel to a depth that can take barge traffic is an absolute game changer for Willacy County,” Cortez told Ron Whitlock Reports.

Willacy County Navigation District’s port director, Ron Mills, predicts that within the next 24 months, one quarter of a billion dollars of economic activity will be conducted at Port Mansfield because of the ship channel being dredged. 

“The investment will come in the form of new warehouses, infrastructure and water borne trade because of the dredging to historic new depths,” Mills told Ron Whitlock Reports.

“We need a four-lane highway and an overweight corridor if we are capitalize on the new business coming in. We are talking about more jobs and economic activity for Willacy County.”

Cortez was interviewed soon after a HD 37 candidate debate hosted by the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the Harlingen Convention Center. 

After his appearance on stage, Cortez said: “The new economic activity at Port Mansfield is going to transform the region. Mark my words, within the next decade, Willacy County will no longer be the poorest county in the state of Texas. They are going to have so much growth because of this port.”

Cortez continued: “But what needs to happen immediately is, we need to have a legislative hearing in Willacy County. I have just had a conversation with Rep. Terry Canales, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, a few moments ago. He said he would work with me, as the next state representative for District 37, to get the top projects for Willacy County advanced. We need to have a hearing. Who needs to set that hearing? The chairman of the Committee on Transportation. And, the chairman has already signaled to me that this is something he will work on favorably, to see if we can get that kind of consideration.”

Cortez continued: “The opportunities are endless for what is going to happen in Willacy County. I am excited to partner with the port leadership and County Judge Guerra on advancing some of these programs and some of these projects. We are not going to wait until the election in November. My “Day One” is going to be May 25, as soon as we win this runoff election.”

Cortez said Canales has endorsed him in his bid to become the next representative for HD 37. Cortez added: “Chairman Canales is aware of the funding that is coming down from the federal government (for Port Mansfield). He understands the economic impact it is going to have on the region. In order for that economic impact to thrive, the overweight corridor is going to be a vital component.”

Rep. Canales, D-Edinburg, sent Ron Whitlock Reports this response: “I have endorsed Ruben Cortez and we are discussing holding hearings regarding those issues. The location has yet to be determined, but it is highly likely that it will take place in Cameron County. Ruben has been at the forefront of the discussions with me and my office and his engagement is not only refreshing but unprecedented.”

Cortez’s opponent in the Democratic Party runoff election is Luis Villarreal. At the RGVHCC candidate forum, Villarreal, like Cortez, said he supports a four-lane highway running from Port Mansfield to the expressway. He said he would introduce legislation to help the process. 

The winner of the Cortez-Villarreal runoff will face a Republican challenger in the general election in November. 

In the RGVHCC debate, Cortez said: “This (Port Mansfield) is going to become the new lifeblood of Willacy County once the infrastructure and the investment has been made.”

In the same debate, Villarreal said: “We have to convert the farm to market roads to state highways. That will require legislation. Once we do that the street or the road will be managed by TxDOT. They need to have enough traffic to sustain… the first step is to upgrade that road.”

Speaking about Port Mansfield, Villarreal said: “It used to be a small fishing community where the water only went two or three feet. Thanks to Congressmen Filemon Vela and (Henry) Cuellar they got the money to dredge it.”

On the same night and venue, RGVHCC also hosted a Senate District 27 candidate forum. The participants were the Democrats running in an upcoming runoff election. 

One of the candidates, Morgan LaMantia, said she strongly supports a four-lane highway between Port Mansfield and the future I-69 East. The other runoff candidate, Sara Stapleton Barrera, said she will back the project if there is local public support. 

“Willacy County is incredibly disturbed. It is one of our poorest counties in the state of Texas. With the closing of the prison that was there they are losing so many jobs, and so much of the economy is being hurt,” LaMantia said.

“Having another avenue to build that economy and have job creation and be able to build more housing in that county is always a good idea. So, I plan, I promise to go up to the state and fight for extra funding, something that we desperately need, not just for Willacy but for all eight counties in the district.”

LaMantia added: “Funding for infrastructure has got to be my biggest priority. And I plan to also work with our MPOs and our counties and our city leadership to make sure that we understand infrastructure project priorities and we make sure that we fund and prioritize those projects that are going to have the greatest impact and are going to be the best use of those funds for everyone in this community. And that is going to be a fight because we know that in South Texas, we have to fight for what we deserve.”

Stapleton Barrera said: “Let’s get real. We’ve got… Biden is going to give us millions and millions of dollars for his infrastructure plan and we are going to have $18 billion in the state of Texas. The funding is certainly there. What is the first step? We outreach to the community and we get a sense as to whether they want it. We have got to talk to locals, if the locals are on board then we move full steam ahead. How do we do that? How do we get our priorities? We put it on the RGV MPO priority list. It is how we need to approach all of these big projects.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story has been updated from its original posting to include a quote from state Rep. Terry Canales.

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