Good afternoon, Chairman. Thank you for hosting this House committee hearing here UTRGV-Brownsville.
Distinguished members of the House Transportation Committee, welcome to Cameron County and for allowing me the opportunity to speak before you and share some information with you about Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley.
I am proud to serve as Cameron County Judge. I also serve as chairman for the RGVMPO and I want at this point to thank Chairman Canales for being instrumental in merging the three MPOs two years ago. You’ve heard the saying, it is sometimes like herding cats. Getting the three MPOs in the Valley together was not an easy process but, we think, one that is bearing fruit right away and I want to thank the chairman for his leadership and his input in making sure that we accomplished that.
Cameron County is part of the four-county Rio Grande Valley and to say Cameron County is unique would be an understatement. Where else in the United States will you find a county with an international border, a coastal border and six modes of transportation that include air, sea, rail, highway, pipeline, and, of course, Space. You will not. Cameron County is truly one of a kind.
Our county has accomplished quite a bit and we stand proud of our achievements. But the vision our leaders have for our area is great and we have much yet to achieve. Getting access to additional infrastructure funding and support for the growing economy in deep South Texas and the RGV, the Metropolitan Planning Organizations, the MPOs, throughout the Rio Grande Valley, merged to form the fifth largest MPO in the state of Texas in 2019. In turn the newly created Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization is receiving a healthier portion of state appropriations to help develop and enhance infrastructure. As a result of additional state funding and improved infrastructure we know economic opportunities will follow for all.
Prior to the formation of the RGVMPO, Cameron County worked diligently and intelligently with the funding we had available. We stretched millions of dollars into tens of million of dollars, all while working cohesively with our local municipalities and the Department of Transportation, the Texas State Legislature and the United States government. Cameron County has proven that with a little we can do a lot.
In the Rio Grande Valley we have 12 international bridges and one ferry. We have six airports, three deep water seaports and one spaceport. Despite the amount of trade that goes through our international bridges, airports and seaports we do not have a seamless interstate system into our metropolitan area.
The most notable achievements in our county portfolio are related to transportation projects, from completing $500 million in projects by leveraging $50 million in local funds to complete highway, rail, bridge and international border master plans, to completing the first international railroad project in the United States and Mexico in over 100 years.
Cameron County is continuously delivering great quality of life and economic opportunity projects that not only affect our residents but our state and our international visitors alike. While accomplishing transportation projects, Cameron County is utilizing a tool that the Texas State Legislature has provided to each and every one us. To be aware, Cameron County is the only county statewide that has a countywide transportation reinvestment zone. In addition, we are the first of two counties that has implemented additional vehicle registration fees using 100% to fund local transportation projects. Finally, Cameron County has utilized a TxDOT pass thru program for county projects. Not only does Cameron County work with state resources but we’ve also worked well with federal government resources and programs as well. Cameron County has completed a $1 million donation acceptance program (DAP) towards a project at Veterans International Bridge for commercial primary lanes and is set to begin construction on a $15 million DAP project at the same bridge that will double our capacity for passenger vehicles.
Additionally, Cameron County is set to begin construction in the fall of 2022 at the Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios that will allow joint inspection for some southbound transmigrantes and commercial trucks carrying fuel into Mexico.
Now we’re not slowing down with regards to improving our infrastructure. Through the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority the county has a $2 billion system of the projects that we believe will be completed within the next decade using a combination of local, state and federal funds. Of the $2 billion system of projects, $60 million worth are shovel ready, $200 million are under design, and $1.6 billion are in the planning phase. From 2020 to 2023 we and the CCRMA will let over $100 million worth of projects with RGVMPO funds.
The county is seeking assistance from the great state of Texas in connection with several transformative projects that will allow for significant economic growth in an area continuously classified as low income and economically disadvantaged.
2nd Causeway project
The first of these projects I want to share with you is the SPI second causeway. Governor Abbott on several occasions, both with us publicly has mentioned his support for the causeway. The Second Access Project to South Padre Island will involve a second crossing on a new location on South Padre to provide a much needed alternative route from the island to the mainland. The second causeway will also facilitate the evacuation of South Padre Island in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster. The project will include a bridge approximately eight miles long as well as improvements to roadways on the mainland and on the island. It will include a highway from the bridge to Edinburg, a new state highway. Total construction costs will approximately run $500 million. TxDOT is the reviewing agency on the environmental document side and we’re looking to partner with the state of Texas and the federal government for funding opportunities.
East Loop project
The other project that I want to mention, the second of the four projects, is the East Loop project which is right down the street. This project will connect Veterans International Bridge to the Port of Brownsville. The East Loop will be an overweight corridor that was approved by the State Legislature back in 2009. Like the Second Causeway to South Padre Island, Cameron County needs help from U.S. Fish and Wildlife to complete a land swap and approval of a mitigation plan. The county is looking to partner with the state of Texas and the federal government again for funding opportunities.
IBTC Corridor project
The third project I want to mention this IBTC Corridor. The purpose of the IBTC project is to improve local and regional mobility for transporting persons and good from international ports of entry in the area of State Highway 365 north to I-2, between US 281 and FM 493. This is in Hidalgo County. The total length of the project is 13.1 miles and will traverse the cities of Pharr, Alamo and Donna. The IBTC project will connect to the SH 68 project being developed by TxDOT to take truck traffic away from regional interstate system north of I-69.
I-69 East and I-69 Central
Lastly, the I-69 E and I-69 C projects. Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley are the largest metropolitan area in the entire United States without an interstate corridor. An interstate corridor is a critical component to be able to lure industry to our region. The Port of Brownsville is a world class port that needs to have an interstate corridor available to attract worldwide industry.
Mr. Chairman, committee members, we need the necessary funding to complete the conversion of US 77 and US 281 to interstate standards.
As a region we have some of the best beaches along the entire Gulf, ample room for growth and a favorable workforce. We come before you today in hopes that our discussion here will turn the spotlight onto the Rio Grande Valley and Cameron County. We lost a great deal of economic opportunities over the last four decades without having an interstate system. We need your help in bringing the interstate system to the Rio Grande Valley. If you’re not aware of all the great and neat things in Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley have to offer, I personally invite you to visit us.
Editor’s Note: The above testimony was provided orally and in writing by Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., to the Texas House Committee on Transportation at a recent legislative field hearing held at UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville. The hearing was co-hosted by the City of Brownsville and UT-Rio Grande Valley.
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