The Pharr Interchange is a major artery in the Rio Grande Valley. It links the cities of Pharr, McAllen, and Edinburg and directs traffic north to San Antonio, west to Laredo, and east to Brownsville.

Since 2016, working with our local elected officials including then Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, and the members of our legislative delegation, we were united in our message to the Texas Transportation Commission that the Pharr Interchange needed to be reconstructed.

Last week, we proudly welcomed J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., Chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission to the Rio Grande Valley for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Pharr Interchange Replacement Project.

It was almost 30 years ago that construction on the current Pharr Interchange started. The population at the time in Hidalgo County was 384,000 and the cost of the project was $28 million. In December 1993, Governor Ann Richards was in the RGV to celebrate the completion of the Pharr Interchange Project. At the time, this interchange was the largest transportation infrastructure project in the region and much needed given the expected traffic that would come from increased commerce due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

By 2010, the population in Hidalgo County had already doubled to 775,000 residents. The Pharr Interchange, given the significant growth in population and increased traffic, was already becoming a problem. It was a huge bottleneck and heavily congested causing lost time but also public safety concerns given the role the interchange plays during hurricane evacuations. In early 2016, addressing this problem became a priority.

Early that year, as then Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee and member of the Transportation Committee, I invited Tryon Lewis, who was the Chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, to the RGV. He met with our local officials to learn about the rapid growth in Hidalgo County and the need for additional investments in our transportation infrastructure. Later that year — joined in Austin by Mayor Darling, Mayor Hernandez, along with the officials from Hidalgo County — we had another meeting with Chairman Lewis to get an update on the funding for the project.

In February of 2017, I was proud to announce that the Texas Transportation Commission had taken action to put the Pharr Interchange Reconstruction project in motion by approving $150 million in funding. In May of 2018, under the leadership of Chairman Bugg, the Transportation Commission authorized a request for proposals to begin the planning and designing of the project. In June of 2019, TxDOT selected Dragados- Pulice as the project designer in charge of the project as well as construction and maintenance. The Transportation Commission also approved the $303 million needed to fully fund the project, making the Pharr Interchange once again the most expensive single transportation project in Hidalgo County.

The Pharr Interchange Project provides for full reconstruction of the US 83/US 281 interchange to include two-lane direct connectors in all four directions. The US 83 general purpose lanes will be reconstructed and/or widened from six to eight non-tolled general purpose lanes (four in each direction) from 2nd Street to the US 83/US 281 interchange, while operational improvements include the reconfiguration of main lane ramps on US 83 from 2nd Street to FM 2557 (S. Stewart Road) and improvements to the approaches and departures to and from the direct connectors along US 281 from Nolana Loop to US 83 in McAllen, Pharr, and San Juan.

The effort to secure all that is necessary for a project of this magnitude requires teamwork. We have a strong legislative delegation given that at the time of the funding for this project I was vice chair of Senate Finance, Oscar Longoria was vice chair of House Appropriations, Mando Martinez was vice chair of House Transportation, Sergio Munoz was a member of House Appropriations, Bobby Guerra was a member of House State Affairs, and we now have Terry Canales as chair of House Transportation. It also requires support from local leaders and Mayor Darling, Mayor Hernandez, and Mayor Molina were strong advocates and worked tirelessly with the MPO to make this project a priority. Just as important, we have had the support of state leadership, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who understand the role the Valley plays in supporting the Texas economy.

The scheduled completion of the reconstruction of the Pharr Interchange is December of 2023. At that time, we will celebrate the completion of the project and the 30th anniversary of the interchange itself. This project will not only address our current congestion, it will also improve safety and help with any needed evacuations as well as better prepare us for future growth. This project helps our Texas and local economy by creating jobs and will improve the quality of life for our RGV residents.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen, Texas. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Hinojosa can be reached by email via: [email protected]