AUSTIN, Texas – Gov. Rick Perry will be in the Rio Grande Valley on July 16 for the ceremonial signing of legislation to create a new University of Texas university and medical school in the region.

However, it is not certain at this stage if Perry will be in the Valley on July 15 for the official unveiling of signage for I-69 and I-2. Organizers are still hoping he can make it but if he cannot Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin will deputize.

“We have invited Gov. Perry to the I-69 and I-2 ceremony. It is going to be a great event, a historic day for the Rio Grande Valley,” said Julian Alvarez, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.

“Who knows, the Governor may still be able to attend. We do know the state plane has been reserved. Who knows, he may come to our event, fly back to Austin and then come back on Tuesday. It is still up in the air. Hopefully we can get him down here.”

The ceremony for the I-69 and I-2 signage unveiling will take place at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Showgrounds in Mercedes. It is being organized jointly by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and the Alliance for I-69 Texas.

Governor Rick Perry will be visiting the Rio Grande Valley on July 16 and maybe on July 15 also.
Governor Rick Perry will be visiting the Rio Grande Valley on July 16 and maybe on July 15 also.

The plan is to have VIPs watch the interstate signs officially unveiled by the Texas Department of Transportation on Expressway 83, U.S. 77 and U.S. 281 before the celebrations begin around lunchtime at the livestock showgrounds in Mercedes. Among the VIPs who have already confirmed their attendance are TTC board member Austin, Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez and U.S. Reps. Rubén Hinojosa and Henry Cuellar. Alvarez is hoping VIPs from the state of Tamaulipas also attend.

“We are anticipating anywhere from 300 to 350 people at the ceremony. We think we will have a full house,” Alvarez said.

There are 113 miles of highway in the Valley that can now be designated as interstate standard. They include Brownsville to Raymondville on U.S. 77, Pharr to Edinburg on U.S. 281, and Harlingen to Mission on Expressway 83.

“July 15 is going to be a landmark day, an historic day for the Rio Grande Valley,” Alvarez said. “There are a couple of things we are going to do to give our celebrations at the Showgrounds a real South Texas feel. We will have some special entertainment. We are looking forward to the unveiling.”

Alvarez paid tribute to all those who have pushed for an interstate for the Valley over the years. “It has been a great effort from everyone involved. We have been working on this for over 20 years. We will have 113 miles of highway in the Valley and that is a good start. But, we still have a long way to go in Texas with the I-69 project.”

Gov. Perry has been a champion of I-69 and the new UT university. He pushed TxDOT to provide funds for construction of I-69 segments on U.S. 77 and U.S. 281, and he embraced the idea of a new university and medical school for the Valley in his State of the State address at the beginning of this year’s regular session.

The week beginning July 15 promises to be an incredible one for the Valley. The day after the I-69 and I-2 ceremony, Gov. Perry comes to the region for a ceremonial bill signing for Senate Bill 24. This is the legislation that dissolves UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville and replaces them with an as yet unnamed new UT university. The new university will also have a four-year medical school.

Details on Perry’s visit to the Valley on July 16 were contained in an email sent Wednesday to UT System regents and other interested parties by Randa S. Safady, vice chancellor for external relations for the UT System. The email included a message from UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, MD.

“Dear Friends, Please join Texas Governor Rick Perry and UT System leaders as we celebrate the legislation to create a new University of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley,” Cigarroa said in the message. It was accompanied by an image showing a map of South Texas with the title ‘Project SoUTh Texas’ on it.

“With profound gratitude to everyone, including elected officials, students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and business and community leaders, your collective voices were instrumental in this important leap forward for South Texas and all of Texas,” Cigarroa said. “The new UT and its medical school will transform Texas and the nation by becoming a global leader in student success, teaching, research and healthcare. It will be affordable, accessible and innovative.”

Cigarroa said UTPA President Robert Nelsen will host a gathering at the UTPA Student Union Theater on Tuesday, July 16 at 9:30 a.m. for remarks and a ceremonial signing of SB 24, followed by a brief reception at 10:30 a.m.

Cigarroa said UTB President Juliet Garcia will host another ceremonial signing event at the Texas Southmost College Arts Center on the UT Brownsville and TSC campus at 1 p.m. on July 16, followed by a reception at 2 p.m.

“UT System Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell and I would be honored to have your presence at UTPA and/or UTB on this historic day for Texas,” Cigarroa said.