The Texas-Mexico border is a key economic gateway to the United States. The region has grown significantly over the years with 97% employment growth between 1990 to 2019 (1.4 million new jobs).

But it also has a critical role to play under the new United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA) framework not only as a trade gateway, but as a significant participant in the reemergence of Texas and Northeast Mexico as global leaders in manufacturing growth.

In order to sustain the economic growth of the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), transportation challenges at the border must be addressed:

* In 2019, border delays resulted in $68.3 million in economic productivity losses, reducing U.S. GDP by $1.1 billion. 

* If nothing is done between now and 2050, the negative impact of Texas-Mexico border delays on GDP could grow by $4.4 billion reducing U.S. GDP by $75 billion. 

That’s where the Border Transportation Master Plan (BTMP) comes in.  The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) commissioned a report to provide a long-range framework for transportation infrastructure in South Texas:

“The BTMP is a comprehensive, multimodal, long-range plan for the Texas-Mexico border region and identifies transportation issues, needs, challenges, opportunities, and strategies for moving people and goods efficiently across the Texas- Mexico border, the border regions, and beyond. It outlines transportation policy, program, and project strategies that support Texas- Mexico, state, regional, and local economic competitiveness.” 

The US Project recommendations include 557 projects totaling $32.7B across the U.S. 

* 27 projects totaling $2.1 billion are partially funded

* 352 projects totaling $25.2 billion are unfunded

Rene Ramirez

Many of these projects are in Texas. In Laredo, for example, there are 112 projects totaling an estimated $10.8 billion. Forty-one of these projects (at a cost of $4.3 billion) are identified as high impact. 

In the Rio Grande Valley, there are 211 projects at $11.7 billion. Seventy-seven of these projects (at a cost of $3.3 billion) are also identified as high impact. 

Each of us believes passionately that we need to press the State to fund the projects outlined in the BTMP.  All too often, the best plans remain unrealized due to inadequate funding. It’s a simple fact that the needs of the border transportation system outpace the level of sustainable and consistent funding that is typically made available by the state. 

Carlos Rubinstein

However, there is a way to get resources to South Texas. For example, utilizing public-private partnerships (P3’s) for priority projects identified by TxDOT in Texas’ metro areas – like Austin, Dallas, and Houston – would free up public funds for BTMP projects that would benefit the people and economy in South Texas, while improving international commerce. 

There may even be a broader role for P3’s in the region. Continued investment in transportation, power, water projects, and other critical assets (e.g., education, workforce development, R&D, and capital availability) will increase the competitiveness of the State to further attract private investment – through the use of P3’s – and allow infrastructure to keep pace with population growth and ensure the future economic success for all of Texas.

Ron Simmons

Public-private partnerships provide access to private-sector expertise, allowing for innovative alternative delivery models that can lower construction costs, accelerate project delivery, improve quality, and help enhance long-term performance for complex infrastructure projects, while reducing reliance on public sector debt. 

South Texas is of profound importance to the economic and cultural future of our state and nation, and every available tool must be utilized to ensure its long-term success.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Dr. Carlos Marin, Rene Ramirez, Carlos Rubinstein, and Ron Simmons. All four serve on the statewide advisory board of the Invest Texas Council. Here are their bios:

Dr. Carlos Marin was chair of the Tropical Texas Emerging Technology Fund Regional Center for Innovation and Commercialization to create opportunities for sustainable entrepreneurship in South Texas and is a founding member of the Rio Grande Valley Angel Investors Network.

Rene Ramirez served as an Edinburg City Councilmember and Hidalgo County Judge. He also served as Chief of Staff for State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and is current Advisory Board member of the Texas Transportation Institute.

Carlos Rubinstein served as Chairman of the Texas Waster Development Board, Commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as well as Rio Grande Watermaster. He is also a former city manager for the City of Brownsville. 

The Honorable Ron Simmons is a former member of the Texas House of Representatives. He was Chair of the Policy Committee for the House Republican Caucus and the sub-committee Chair of the Long-Term Financing and Planning Transportation Committee.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Dr. Carlos Marin.

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