AUSTIN, RGV – The Texas Transportation Commission has recommended $150 million in funding for the Interstate 2/Interstate 69 Central Pharr Interchange project in the Rio Grande Valley, Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez and state Sen. Juan Hinojosa have announced.

TTC met in Austin on Thursday and Hernandez and Hinojosa were present for the discussion about the TxDOT Pharr District project. TTC plans to use monies from TxDOT’s 2017 Unified Transportation Program to improve connectivity at the Pharr Interchange. The Unified Transportation Program authorizes projects for construction, development and planning activities and includes projects involving highways, aviation, public transportation, and state and coastal waterways.

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa

“It’s exciting news that the Rio Grande Valley has been recommended by TxDOT to receive $150 million in funding,” said Sen. Hinojosa in a news release. “As one of the fastest growing areas of the state, infrastructure is key to continue the economic growth of the Rio Grande Valley. The Pharr Interchange is critical to the flow of traffic of the economies of Pharr, Edinburg, McAllen, Mission, and Weslaco.”

Hinojosa, a member of the Senate Committee on Transportation, told the Rio Grande Guardian last year that the Pharr Interchange project would be one of his top legislative priorities for the 85th Legislature. To make the project a reality he has, over the past year, met with local elected officials, the Governor’s office, and TxDOT staff and leadership, including TTC Chairman Tryon Lewis and TDOT Executive Director James M Bass. Lewis and Bass visited the Pharr Interchange last year to see for themselves the traffic congestion at rush hour.

“This funding is critical to improve our transportation system and infrastructure need that will greatly benefit our local communities. It will address the congestion and bottlenecks that presently exists,” Hinojosa said.

In addition to thanking Lewis and Bass, Hinojosa said praise must go to Mayor Hernandez, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, the Valley legislative delegation and the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization “for working together to achieve such great success for our region.”

Hinojosa added: “The strong local support and investment into these projects from our local communities played a key role in successfully obtaining these funds.”

Mayor Hernandez penned a guest column in the Rio Grande Guardian to make the case for more transportation funding in the Valley.

Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez

“As Mayor of Pharr and vice-chair of the regional Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization, transportation and infrastructure improvements have been my top priority,” Hernandez wrote. “Over the past 18 months, I have used my position to impress upon our local leaders, our state officials, and our federal partners the importance of bringing resources to South Texas to meet the demand of our growing communities.”

In the guest column, Hernandez pointed out that the Valley’s highways, land ports of entry, and railways serve as a channel for domestic and foreign goods. He cited Texas Comptroller’s Office statistics which show that Texas has accounted for nearly $650 billion in international trade in 2015, with $365 billion traveling through our Texas Mexico border.

“The Pharr International Bridge has had unparalleled growth in both imports and exports. Our latest trade numbers rank us as the 6th most important gateway in the U.S. out of roughly 475 land ports, seaports and airports, and the fourth largest and most important port of entry with Mexico, the U.S.’s top trading partner. We must continue to make crucial infrastructure improvements to our ports of entry, through the creation of connectivity to I-69, and by the expansion of I-69 Central,” Hernandez wrote.

Hernandez said improving transportation infrastructure remains a critical priority for the city of Pharr and for the Rio Grande Valley region.

“With the increase of vehicle and cargo traffic, the state leaves the Rio Grande Valley cities and county stakeholders’ in a vulnerable position by not providing adequate highway infrastructure for their constituents. Without state funding for significant projects like the I-69 Central Interchange Expansion, total funding for new highway construction and maintenance will continue to decline sharply as borrowed money and one-time funding sources are exhausted,” Hernandez wrote.

“Currently, freight traffic and passenger vehicles share the same roadways, causing congestion along the I-69 and I-2 interchange, leading to collisions, delays, and mounting frustration among our citizens. These conditions are unacceptable to our families in the Rio Grande Valley. Just as a physician would intervene with treatment at the onset of blocked veins to prevent further damage, the urgency to intervene in our transportation needs is now, before the situation worsens.”