MCALLEN, Texas – When acquiring right of way for the I-69 Connector, enough land should be purchased to build a rail line inside the two lanes of highway.

This is the view of Keith Patridge, president of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation. At a recent MEDC board meeting, Patridge encouraged his directors to write to the Texas Department of Transportation in support of his idea.

“There is a TxDOT public comment period on the I-69 C/I-69 E corridor project. I am asking them to have enough land in the right of way and in the design to include the possibility of rail between the lanes,” said Patridge (pictured above).

“We should request they take that into account. Even if they include additional land and the rail project were not to happen, having that additional land would be important for additional lanes.”

The I-69 Connector is a proposal TxDOT is looking at to connect I-69 Central, north of Edinburg, to I-69 East, north of Harlingen. The exact location has yet to be determined.

Patridge said that as a member of the Texas Freight Advisory Committee he hears from rail companies a fair bit.

“When you hear the rail companies talk, the number one issue they are dealing with is safety. The safety that they are talking about is grade level crossings,” Patridge said.

“What this could give us, really, is an opportunity to have probably the only border crossing I know of where you would have unimpeded access all around the metropolitan area. You would not have grade level crossings to interfere with rail. That could be a real competitive issue for us.”

The idea would be for freight traffic moving along the east-west rail line next to Business 83 to be transferred to a new rail line on the I-69 Connector. That would free up the rail line along Business 83 to be used for a Rails-to-Trails project, similar to the one developed in Brownsville, or a Light Rail system.

Patridge said more and more of the manufacturing companies MEDC deals with are asking for a rail component.

“It looks like we have a lot more of our companies that are focused on rail, especially the big ones. They are looking at rail service as a necessity. And so I think we need to be looking at that,” Patridge told his board of directors.

“If that is what we want as a community, if we want some of these one billion dollar, two billion dollar, three billion dollar (manufacturing) plants we are going to have to look at providing a rail service. So, this is a long term project but it is something right now we need to look at, making sure we have the right of way.”

Andrew Canon, executive director of the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, was at the MEDC board meeting. He later told the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service that allowing for a rail line inside the I-69 Connector was an excellent idea.

“The City of Mission has the vision of a new international bridge that would include rail. An expansion of that project, perhaps, could be that instead of worrying about buying all the right of way going north (to Hebbronville), which we used to have (as a project) but which we abandoned years ago… we could do right of way north all the way to the Monte Cristo area. Then you could go east along the I-69 Connector over to the 77 area, where the rail line already exists. This would provide that connectivity,” Canon said.

Canon said moving freight along a new rail line that is part of the I-69 Connector could help improve the quality of life for residents and store owners along Business 83.

“It is great vision from Keith (Patridge) to think about a rail line along the I-69 Connector. It gives us an opportunity to have discussions about how we address the rail that comes through our communities here in the south end of it. Because we have too many at-grade crossings for our rail and they are non-protected at-grade crossings. We have no railroad arms, or very, very, few of them,” Canon said.

“In an ideally perfect area, I would like to see us talking about relocating the rail. It is not my realm to say, but if we could do that, you could turn it (the rail line running parallel to Business 83) into a Rails-to-Trails type corridor, connecting to other Rails-to-Trails. To provide non-motorized connectivity would be a fantastic vision to have.”

Canon was asked if the rail line running alongside Business 83 could also be turned into a Light Rail commuter system, running from McAllen, or even Rio Grande City, to Brownsville.

“It could be our Light Rail line,” Canon responded. “We did that study some years back. That study would have to be updated. That was another piece of visionary work from Rep. Martinez. I was on the rail board for a while. That is certainly something that could be addressed.”

Canon said Light Rail would provide an economic stimulus for our mom and pop shops along the Business 83 corridor.

“For people to stop, shop, be entertained. Connectivity to The Outlets. I have always envisaged the first leg being the part that goes between my office in Edinburg down to McAllen, because it is right next to the university (UTRGV). If you have some park and ride options, for people that work at the university, people that work in McAllen, that would be good. It also provides connectivity for students at the university that want to go to the McAllen entertainment district. Enjoy a good evening and not get behind the wheel of a vehicle. They could walk to their dorm room safely.”

Canon added: “I think they are fantastic ideas, we just have to find money. That is always the small caveat to everything.”


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1 COMMENT

  1. Mr. Patridge is to be commended for his recommendations. Having a rail line between Interstate lanes eliminates the dangers of grade crossings. We might take them a step farther to make this rail proposal one of the first parts of a nation-wide high speed rail system. This would have to be a multi decade project; just as was our (still growing) Interstate Highway system. Both products and people could be moved to their destinations much more quickly. With an electric rail system, we would be environmentally beneficial, helping to reduce the forces of climate change. Such a system also would reduce shipping costs, and reduce wear and tear on our Interstate highways by reducing the number of long-haul tractor trailer trucks. Given the growing shortage of long-haul truck drivers, this also would reduce some of the “supply chain” problems we are experiencing today. This could make the Valley a leader in speeding product to market, reducing shipping costs, and fighting climate change. GREAT IDEA!!! I hope it takes off like a rocket.