PHARR, RGV – State Sen. Juan Hinojosa is going to use his position on a newly-created Senate panel to go after funds to fix the huge I-69 Central/I-2 bottleneck in Pharr.

Last week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed five legislators to the Senate Select Committee on Transportation Planning. Hinojosa was the only border lawmaker named to the panel.

State Senator Juan Hinojosa
State Senator Juan Hinojosa

“For us in the Rio Grande Valley our next big transportation project is trying to expand the interchange in Pharr. That is a huge bottleneck, where Highway 281 intersects with Expressway 83. We receive many complaints about it,” Hinojosa told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Many times, when I have driven through there the line backs up almost past Nolana, if you are coming in from the north. And if you are coming in from the east it will back up almost to Alamo. That has to be corrected. It will take some time but we intend to find the funding to expand the number of roads at that interchange.”

Asked if State Highway 68, which is being constructed between Donna and Edinburg, might relieve some of the pressure on the Pharr interchange, Hinojosa said: “It will relieve some of the pressure but that cannot be used as an excuse for not doing anything at Pharr because the Valley will continue to grow. By the time we finish the Edinburg-Donna bypass, we will have outgrown our needs. We will be playing catch-up.  We will always be playing catch-up so long as we have a strong economy, as long as the Valley continues to grow.”

Asked if his position on the Senate Select Committee on Transportation Planning would help in the search for funding for the Pharr interchange project, Hinojosa said: “Yes, plus the fact that I am on the Senate Finance Committee which writes the budget. For me it is a priority. I am the one who has got to push for it.”

The Senate Select Committee on Transportation Planning was created by House Bill 20. According to Patrick’s office, the committee is tasked with evaluating numerous matters including: (1) TxDOT projections regarding revenue needed to maintain current maintenance, congestion, and connectivity conditions; (2) TxDOT’s rules/policies regarding project prioritization; (3) TxDOT’s collaboration with state elected officials, local governments, MPOs, RMAs and other entities when adopting rules or policies; (4) Performance metrics used by TxDOT to evaluate the performance of a project or program; (5) Other matters the committee considers appropriate.

The five legislators appointed to the panel are state Sens. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, Bob Hall, R-Rockwall, Joan Huffman, R-Houston, Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Nichols, who chairs the Senate Committee on Transportation and was a member of the Texas Transportation Commission, chairs the panel.

“I am very pleased to appoint each one of these hard working Senators to this important oversight committee,” Patrick said. “Their leadership, legislative experience and commitment to the State of Texas will be invaluable.”

Patrick added: “Senator Nichols is the perfect person to lead this effort just like he did during the last legislative session in the Texas Senate. We have no time to waste. Texas is on a roll and we need to make sure our roadway improvements keep it that way.”

In a news release, Hinojosa said of his appointment:

“I thank Lt. Governor Patrick for entrusting me with the important task of planning for our state’s future transportation needs and appointing me to this committee. Transportation is the lifeblood of our economy. For decades, our state highway system was efficient, expeditious, and the envy of other states. Our highways made Texas the economic powerhouse it is today. But with demand for road space now far outpacing supply, the lack of planning and investment in our transportation infrastructure could bring our economy to a halt.

“We must work towards expanding our roads and highways, advancing our transportation infrastructure goals, and improving the safety of our families. I look forward to working with the committee to find ways to provide the transportation planning and infrastructure that our state needs and Texans deserve.”

In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Hinojosa said of his appointment:

“We are going to look at the priorities for TxDOT for funding highway projects but also the metrics and the criteria to be used to allocate those monies. We appropriated about $23 billion this session for TxDOT. This does not include the money voters may approve come November when an extra $2.5 billion could be added. On top of that, TxDOT can get money from the Rainy Day Fund. We are focusing on and taking care of transportation. Being on this committee is a huge plus for us here in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Hinojosa was asked about the Valley’s historical underfunding when it came to transportation projects. “When NAFTA was passed it created a huge problem for us here on the border because there was a tremendous increase in trucks carrying merchandise up north. Neither the federal government nor the state government provided the money necessary to build up our infrastructure and provide funding to expand our transportation system. Since then we have tried to address that situation. The Valley continues to grow at a very rapid pace. For us, is imperative that we fund our transportation needs here, not only because of NAFTA but because of the growing economic relationship we have with Mexico.”

Asked how the I-69 Central project was going between the Rio Grande Valley and I-37, Hinojosa said: “Those types of project do not happen overnight. We have been making progress, slowly but surely. Every year we dedicate funds for a certain segment of 281 as I-69. Part of it is already up to interstate standards. Other parts are not. We are working on it.”

Hinojosa added: “A good transportation system is key to our economy. People complain there is a lot of congestion. We are addressing those issues. We are responding to the feedback we get, not only from constituents but the business community. It is important to have a strong, reliable, transportation system.”