HARLINGEN, Texas – The executive director of Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority has given the reporters an update on the Second Causeway project for South Padre Island.

Pete Sepulveda said the second causeway is now proceeding as a non-toll project because state leaders have imposed a moratorium on all toll projects. If it had been allowed to proceed as a toll-road, the second access project would have been completed a lot sooner, Sepulveda said.

“We will develop it as a non-toll project. We do not need any state legal authority to do that. We can do that through the traditional TxDOT method of developing and funding a project. It might take longer but…, unless something happens in the next couple of weeks but they are not moving,” said Sepulveda.

Sepulveda paused after saying “but,” because there is a slim chance that the state legislature will change the rules on toll projects. However, he does not see this happening.

If the second access project does proceed as a non-toll project, it will simply be an issue of priority for TxDOT, Sepulveda said.

“You get into a priority issue and at that cost, $300 million or $400 million, it becomes difficult to fund it,” Sepulveda said. “But, when you look at it statewide, $300 million or $400 million is not a lot of money. But, it would be a good injection into our area.”

Sepulveda said the job of CCRMA is simply to crack on with completing the environmental phase of the second causeway project.

“We are going to focus on completing the environmental phase. And hopefully that can get us to a higher priority. We are looking at state funds to do that. I think we will know in the next 60 to 90 days,” he said.

“We will continue to work through the MPO and start developing it as non-toll project. We will take that approach.”

The MPO Sepulveda refers to is the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization. This group acts as the conduit for all state and federal transportation dollars that come into the Valley.

On its website, CCRMA points out that South Padre Island is home to nearly 3,000 residents year-round, with, during peak seasons, millions of additional visitors.

“With an increasing number of vehicles destined to travel to South Padre Island and only one access to the mainland, new infrastructure developments are needed to alleviate traffic congestion and improve safety,” the website states.

“The CCRMA, in partnership with TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, are working on the SPI 2nd Access. The new access will provide an additional emergency evacuation route and improve emergency response times. Along with the further development of a new access, we open the doors to economic development in the northern part of the island.”

CCRMA says the second causeway is slated to be eight miles in length, beginning near Holly Beach and traversing the Laguna Madre. “Currently the design is being developed in a manner to cause the least amount of environmental impacts to the seagrass and other local species habitats we all enjoy when on the water,” the group states.

Asked if the eagerly anticipated federal infrastructure bill will help speed up the second access project for SPI, Sepulveda said: “Absolutely. Unfortunately, because we do not have the environmental phase completed it might impact us but we are definitely looking at that. I think there will be many opportunities for other projects that will free up money at the MPO and maybe we use can use that money (for the second causeway).”

Sepulveda said another plus will be the return of earmarks to Congress. Their new name is community based projects. “We are looking at all the opportunities,” he said.

Another project that will help speed up the second causeway project is a new east-west corridor between Harlingen and Edinburg. TxDOT is currently looking at the best location for this corridor. It would connect I-69 Central with I-69 East.

“That is a connection that we need. That would be one component of the causeway itself, so yes, we definitely support that,” Sepulveda said.

“I believe TxDOT is moving forward with the environmental phase for that one. That is all needed infrastructure for the future. You cannot have a second causeway without that road.”

Sepulveda added that a second access to SPI remains a high priority for CCRMA and RGV MPO.

“It is a regional project. Unfortunately, because we do not have the environmental phase completed, it makes it hard when you are competing for funds. But, I think if we can figure that out in the next couple of months and begin that process, I think we will be in good shape.”

Asked for any wrap-up remarks, Sepulveda said: “We are looking forward to the next policy committee meeting of the MPO. I believe the Secretary of State is going to be present at that meeting so, we will be prepared for that.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Pete Sepulveda.

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