PHARR, Texas – Pedro ‘Pete’ Alvarez, engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation’s Pharr district, has won a top award.

Alvarez won the Transportation Award for Planning from the president of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.

The award was given for Alvarez’s role in the creation of the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“This prestigious award recognizes exemplary service during the year that has furthered transportation activities with a positive impact on transportation,” a TxDOT news release stated.

“Among his many accomplishments, Pete served an integral role in helping local transportation leaders in the Rio Grande Valley realize the recent merger of three metropolitan planning organizations into one regional MPO.”

For many years, the news release stated, state legislators, local elected officials, and community leaders from the region had discussed how to maximize federal transportation dollars for regional projects. “The answer was simple: merge all three MPOs,” TxDOT said.

Alvarez became TxDOT’s Pharr District Engineer in 2017. TxDOT said his “energy and determination” helped the Valley’s leadership materialize the potential of a merger.  

“His enthusiasm and patience provided state, county, and city leaders with valuable information and unbiased perspective to ease tensions and concerns brought on by differences of opinion and contrasting viewpoints,” the news release stated.

“The Rio Grande Valley is a vital lifeline for our nation’s commerce through the transportation of people and goods. As this border region continues to grow in population and economic prosperity, the need for adequate infrastructure planning with limited funding was a matter of immediate importance.”

The RGV-MPO is now the 5th largest MPO in Texas and serves over 1.4 million people. The merger allows the Rio Grande Valley to compete for more significant funding opportunities for infrastructure projects, encourages economic development and strengthens transportation systems throughout the region.

Editor’s Note: Just days before COVID-19 hit the Rio Grande Valley, Alvarez gave a major speech a breakfast event hosted by Edwards Abstract & Title Company. The event was held on March 6, 2020, at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. Although the Rio Grande Guardian penned a story on Alvarez’s remarks, the story was not published because the attention of the nation was on the coronavirus pandemic. To coincide with Alvarez winning his award, we thought it an appropriate time to publish the story. Here it is:

New long-range arterial map for RGV

EDINBURG, Texas – The Texas Department of Transportation’s Pharr District Office has unveiled a new long-range arterial map for the Rio Grande Valley.

The map is color-coded. The roads colored red are completed. The roads colored green are funded. The roads colored orange are partially funded. And the roads colored blue are unfunded.

There is a lot of blue on the map. However, Pedro ‘Pete’ Alvarez, the Pharr District engineer, said if local municipalities, regional mobility authorities and the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization get the projects shovel-ready, often times the money somehow is found.

By way of example he cited Highway 68, a planned relief route for I-69 Central in Donna and Edinburg. At first it only had $ 55 million and then, in short order, it ha $180 million. “One way or another the money will come,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez unveiled the new long range map at a breakfast event hosted by Edwards Abstract & Title Company. The event was held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. 

Alvarez said a theme of his speech was the word “double.” The Valley’s population right now is 1.5 million. By 2040, he said, it is projected to double to three million. “How are we going to move three million people,” he said. “We do not have the infrastructure.”

Alvarez said in some ways I-2 could be compared to I-35 around Kyle, just south of Austin. The traffic count on I-2 in the upper Valley is 160,000 vehicles a day, he said, while I-35 at Kyle is 125,000 a day. Alternative routes are needed to I-2, Alvarez said, otherwise “I-2 will become like I-35.”

A key requirement in planning for the future is working in partnership and thinking regionally. He said some major road projects can take from three to 20 years to complete.

A major milestone, Alvarez argued, was the merger of the Valley’s three MPO’s into one. This occurred in April 2019. “That was huge,” Alvarez said. “A tremendous accomplishment.” He paid tribute to the elected officials who made the merger happen, saying the Valley’s traditional “Friday Night mentality” had been put aside, with “egos checked at the door.”

The new MPO is the fifth largest in the state of Texas, Alvarez said, only behind Houston, Dallas-Forth Worth, San Antonio and Austin.

While the Valley currently has 1.5 million people, Alvarez said, the communities just across the Rio Grande have a population of 2.5 million. He said the economy of the Valley was inextricably tied to those of cities like Reynosa and Matamoros. “Folks, it is not going to stop,” Alvarez said of the population growth.

TXDOT has identified three priority projects, Alvarez said, outside of the Highway 365 toll project currently underway. The 365 project will create an overweight corridor for truck traffic from Mission to Donna, he said. Funding has been identified and construction will start next year. 

The top three TXDOT projects are the International Bridge Trade Corridor, the connector linking I-69 Central to I-69 East, and the East Loop in Brownsville that will connect the Port of Brownsville to an international bridge.

“Those three projects are going to be game changers,” Alvarez said. 

Alvarez also spoke about the importance of “added capacity projects.” This means adding additional lanes to existing thoroughfares. He said roads that have 10,000 vehicles a day need two lanes. Roads that have 20,000 vehicles a day need four lanes, and those above 20,000 need six lanes.

TXDOT has identified 100 added capacity projects that need to be completed, Alvarez said, Of these, 67 are in Hidalgo County and the rest in Cameron County. The 100 projects have a combined estimated cost of $2 billion, he said. 

The good news, Alvarez said, is TxDOT’s Pharr District has $2.1 billion coming its way over the next ten years. That is a big increase on the $1.1 million it was slated to receive just a couple of years ago. 

Discussing the much-anticipated Pharr Interchange project, Alvarez said TxDOT would increase the capacity of one bridge at a time, doubling the four lanes from one to two in each case. He said the project would likely take three years to complete.

Talk, Text, Crash

Alvarez started his remarks by urging those in the audience not to text and drive. He said an accident nearly happened on his way to the venue because someone in the room had been using his mobile phone while driving. “Not only are you putting yourself in danger, you are putting others in danger,” he said.

Ted C. Jones presentation

Another speaker at the Edwards Abstract event was Ted Jones, a Houston-based economist and real estate broker who is an annual fixture at the title company’s state of real estate address. 

The State of Real Estate 2020 was held before the coronavirus scare was designated a pandemic and before the markets tanked. 

In his remarks, Jones predicted great things for the Valley. 

“The reason I am so excited about the Valley is, first of all it is Texas. Texas is growing jobs at almost double the rate of the U.S. Our latest jobs report, out this morning, shows we are up 1.6 percent,” Jones told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Now let’s talk about the Valley. The Valley is younger than the rest of Texas. What people are earning today and making, they are kind of like at the lower end of their scale. Demographically speaking, we have got 20 years of built in growth, just this current generation. Maturing, honing their skills sets, increasing their incomes. It is going to be a growth mode without question.”

Jones added: “It (the Valley) is a ‘can do’ place. That is what excites most, both the economics of the state and the region, and the demographics of the Valley. It is going to be a great 20-year ride. We will have ups and downs but it is going to be a great 20-year ride.”

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