MCALLEN, RGV – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has given his opinion on local efforts to build a second access to South Padre Island.
At a news conference at McAllen Convention Center on Tuesday, Patrick said: “South Padre is one of the great treasures in our country, as well as Texas.”
Asked by a reporter if he will help Rio Grande Valley legislators in the push to secure state funds for the second causeway project, Patrick said: “This past session we passed legislation – I am glad the Senate led on it – to put about $2 billion more into transportation without any new taxes and any new fees. The voters approved it overwhelmingly last November. The year before the voters approved another $1.5 billion. So, we are now putting about $4 billion – some of it is tied to the price of oil so it will slide a little bit, higher or lower, depending on the price of oil – but we have about $4 billion now more per year, that TxDOT has to spend.”
It was put to Patrick that South Padre Island needs good news right now. Revenues took a big hit last year due to Red Tide and the heavy rains in the Fall. Patrick’s support of the second causeway project would be well received by SPI leaders and Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority (CCRMA), which is planning to build the new bridge within the next five years.
“Every county and every city, pretty much, large, small or mid-sized, will be asking for that money so it will be a case of – and you have two great senators down here, Senator Lucio and Senator Hinojosa, and your representatives – they will have to go and fight with Padre Island for their share of that. We will have to see what the plan is to do that. At least there are more dollars available,” Patrick said.
Asked if a second causeway could be a top priority for the State of Texas, given how many tourist dollars it can potentially bring in, Patrick said: “I do not want to see the State picking project after project. It is really about making sure the money is there. There are a lot of needs, infrastructure and roads. We will let it work itself out with TxDOT and the local representatives and the business community as well.”
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, told Ron Whitlock Reports that he intends to take up Lt. Gov. Patrick’s suggestion that Valley legislators make a push for the additional TxDOT funds available for transportation infrastructure projects.
“The new funding comes under the control of TxDOT. We have to compete with other parts of the state. We can put a good argument together on why it is needed, the growth, the safety and the economic development that would take place. It would benefit the state as a whole. We hope the TxDOT leadership listens to our local leaders and our legislative delegation,” Lucio said.
Lucio also said public-private partnerships may have to be explored as a way to secure additional funding for a second causeway. He said the project is a priority of his and should be for the State of Texas.
“The second bridge to the Island has to happen soon. We need to address it soon because there are more and more people coming, not only from different parts of the state and the country but also from Mexico. People that love the Island, that have bought property on the Island,” Lucio said.
“During Spring Break we have a couple of hundred people on the Island on any given weekend during that four-week period. It merits our full attention. So, I hope we can come up with a mechanism through which we can see the financing take place, whether that funding comes from the State or through private sources. It could be a public-private partnership that has to be formed to make it happen.”
Last week, CCRMA held an industry outreach meeting with potential developers of the second causeway. It was held at the Hilton Garden Inn on South Padre. At the meeting, CCRMA also wanted to solicit interest in building the Outer Parkway, a 21.5 mile tolled highway project, running from the second causeway to I-69 East. Richard Ridings, of HNTB, spoke at the event and was interviewed afterwards by Ron Whitlock Reports. HNTB has been the CCRMA’s general engineering consultant for more than ten years.
Ridings said the State of Texas has helped and will continue to help with the second access project. “The State of Texas helped create regional mobility authorities in the first place. They have been our partner in the past and we expect those partnerships to continue,” Ridings said.
Ridings said a second access to South Padre Island should be viewed not only as a revenue generating proposition for the Valley but also as a means of improving the safety of Valley residents. “It should be viewed as a way to improve the evacuation speed. It can take six hours, when the Island is crowded, to cross the existing bridge.”
Ridings said it was too early to say how the second access project would be financed. He said there are a number of options for potential developers to look at, including design-build and design build finance. The good news, he said, is that the project does qualify for federal support under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, otherwise known as TIPIA.
“This project defines the TIPIA program. It is a rural project,” Ridings said. He also praised Cameron County Commissioners Court for creating a county-wide transportation reinvestment zone, which has the potential to raise $1.6 billion for future transportation projects over the next 50 years.
“The innovative financial approach of the local community, what they want to do to get this project financed, is simply phenomenal. This is the largest TRZ in the country.”
Asked to define a TRZ, Ridings said: “It is a transportation reinvestment zone and the way that it works is all of the current county taxes that are being collected today are pledged to whatever projects they are pledged to. What we are talking about is the incremental increase in the values of those properties for county taxes. A portion of that incremental increase can be used for road construction projects, to bring economic development and jobs to the county, to create a quality employment situation. Those incremental increases can be used for that and we believe the second access is a really good example of something that will not only generate jobs for construction but also good-paying jobs for the future.”
Ridings predicted increased development as a result of the second access project. “A lot of land that will be used for this project is undeveloped right now. What is going to happen when this second bridge is in place? what is going to happen to rest of the Island? What is going to happen to the mainland and the Outer Parkway, as that gets developed? And then 1925, which goes from I-69 East all the way to 281. A lot of the land along 1925 is undeveloped right now. These routes will get developed. There is demand out there, because of SpaceX, because of this project, a need for improved quality housing, improved quality jobs.”
Asked how confident HNTB and CCRMA are of securing environmental clearance for the second causeway, Ridings said: “We are confident based upon where we are right now. We believe it is time to begin discussing the project with the contractors and with the community. We cannot touch it but we can smell it. We believe the seagrass mitigation plan that has been developed is phenomenal. We are going to develop the world’s largest seagrass nursery. It is going to be part of this overall program. We firmly believe this project is going to add value not only to jobs, education, quality of life, but also to the environment.”