RANCHO VIEJO, TEXAS – Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority hopes to have environmental approval to build a 2nd Causeway to South Padre Island within the next 24 to 36 months, now TxDOT is involved.
The Texas Department of Transportation is taking over as the reviewing agency for the environmental impact statement. Previously, that work was being conducted by the Federal Highway Administration.
Interviewed immediately after a recent CCRMA board meeting, CCRMA Executive Director Pete Sepulveda told Ron Whitlock Reports and the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service: “The board approved a work authorization to proceed with the environmental phase of the project. The work authorization should include a scope that eventually will get us environmental clearance for a second causeway from the mainland to South Padre Island.”
Asked how long the environmental clearance might take, Sepulveda said: “The timeframe for that could be anywhere from 24 to 36 months. We are hoping we can shorten that. But, the good thing is that the work authorization was approved and a consultant can now proceed in developing, updating the different reports, the schematics so that we can be on our way to getting environmental clearance from the Texas Department of Transportation.”
Asked if having TxDOT conduct the environmental approval process would be better than having the FHA in charge, Sepulveda said: “The reviewing agency now is the Texas Department of Transportation. They will be the ones to review the EIS and to give the environmental approval. We believe that is a good thing. We believe we have a good working relationship with TxDOT so we believe this will allow us to complete the environmental phase in a more timely manner.”
Recently, Pete Alvarez, TXDOT’s Pharr district engineer, said he believed a 2nd Causeway could be completed within seven years. Asked if he agrees with that assessment, Sepulveda said: “Yes, I think that while that might be an aggressive schedule, I think it is a doable schedule. The only phase in the project development that we do not have control over is the environmental. So, as we can get environmental clearance we can accelerate the design, we can accelerate the construction. So, that is our goal. To stay focused on the environmental phase. Once we get it environmentally cleared then we can proceed to complete the design and obviously start the construction of the project. But, I concur with his comment.”
Asked if there was anything else he would like to say, Sepulveda said: “No. We will be putting out updates as we move along in updating the reports throughout the environmental phase.”
At the CCRMA board meeting, Sepulveda reported that local funding has been obtained to pay for the environmental impact statement. “The fee is $3,798,887. The partnership is between the county, us and the City of South Padre Island,” he said.
Sepulveda said CCRMA is starting to get calls from elected officials wanting to help.
“I received a call from Chairman Canales to see how he can help, once the session starts. I think there are a lot of opportunities right now. Part of this will also include a funding plan, so we will look at different funding options that we might have. Right now there are a lot of opportunities at the federal level. The county has discussed this with Representative Vicente Gonzalez, and with Senator Cornyn. So, we are excited.”
The “Chairman Canales” Sepulveda referred to is state Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg. Canales chairs the Texas House Committee on Transportation.
“We have a good feeling. I am satisfied with the scope. We will work with every state and federal agency that will be impacted. Again, we will go to TxDOT. TxDOT will lead those efforts on our behalf because they are the reviewing agency,” Sepulveda told the CCRMA’s board of directors.
“The scope will give us a supplemental draft environmental impact statement. We will then, more than likely, be required to have a public hearing. We had a public hearing in 2012. So, we will be required to have another public hearing. It includes all the coordination needed with state and federal agencies.”
The 2nd Causeway project has been delayed by three years because state leaders will not allow any new toll projects. CCRMA Board Chairman Frank Parker, Jr., asked if the total cost of building a 2nd Causeway was now up to $1.5 billion, as opposed to the previous estimate of $850 million.
“That I am not sure I am hoping that it is not. I am hoping it is still in the range of $400-$500 million dollars. We will see,” Sepulveda responded.
“Part of what we will be doing within this 36 months is looking at what funding opportunities that TxDOT has for design, engineering and construction, and what funding opportunities are at the federal level, for any design, right to way acquisition and construction.”
Sepulveda said: “Keep in mind, one huge difference is that the reviewing agency is now TxDOT, not the FHA. TxDOT will be driving this. They said, our project, so I am assuming it is TxDOT’s project. So, when it comes to funding they will be our biggest partner.”
Asked by a board member if TxDOT taking over the environmental work is a big deal, Sepulveda said: “I think it is. The consultant is prepared. We are prepared. I know there are going to be challenges. There are challenges on every project but we have the support, locally, regionally, state.”
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