RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – The owner of the Starr Camargo International Bridge has called on city and county leaders to create a master plan for housing, retail and industrial development in anticipation of the new Starr County bypass.
Sam Vale says Loop 195 will provide an alternative east-west route to State Highway 83, ease traffic congestion in Rio Grande City and Roma, and connect to the northwest corner of the Hidalgo County Loop that is also being planned. He said the Starr County road project could be complete within the next ten to 15 years.
“There is clearly going to be a lot of development between Expressway 83 and Loop 195. It is very critical for us that the cities and the county governments work together to masterplan that so we do not get unscrupulous developers coming in and building subdivisions that are not adequate to meet the fire codes and the health codes,” Vale told the Rio Grande Guardian.
Asked if city and county officials appreciate the importance of developing a masterplan to go with Loop 195, Vale said: “I think they are starting to understand it. Like most communities we all start to look only inside our city limits. Here, we know where the highway is going to go. The new loop will be the real boundary for urban development in Starr County. Those areas between 83 and the loop will start to fill in.”
Vale made his comments at the conclusion of an economic development forum hosted by the Starr County Industrial Foundation. Vale moderated a panel titled “Pushing the Boundaries of International Commerce.”
A power point presentation Vale gave included a slide showing the likely route of Loop 195. It will connect to State Highway 83 to the east of Rio Grande City and to the west of Roma. The first leg of the loop will go north from Hwy 83 to FM 755. Vale said this leg of the loop will cost $13 million and that the funding has already been identified.
“The real mobility is when you can go from Roma to Rio Grande City or vice versa without having 15 or 18 stop lights. Most people from the Valley are not even taking 83 to go to Laredo anymore because of the all the congestion you get here in the communities along this route,” Vale said.
Vale said David Higgerson, director of the Laredo field office for Customs and Border Protection, had asked him to come up with a 15- to 20-year plan for an expansion of operations at the Starr Camargo International Bridge. Vale said it was at that point that he knew he had to think about the highway system as well. “We can build the bridge expansion but we need to tie this into the state highway system.”
Vale told the audience that Loop 195 means real mobility. “It tells developers where there is going to probably be most development in Starr County over the next 20 years. In there is miles of development property that is going to be built upon. The challenge to our cities and counties is to get them to masterplan in here,” Vale said, pointing to a map.
Vale warned that if a master plan for development of land next to the new loop and running along its feeder roads does not occur colonias will spring up.
“Nothing would be more disastrous than to have development in here and not have the water systems connected, not have the law enforcement systems working together. This is a 20 plan but you need to do it now because when you try to come back it is too expensive,” Vale said.
“How expensive is it for a city or a county to come back to address the shortfalls in a colonia because it was not properly developed? Or because there is no space in there for the fire department to get in. That is a much bigger expense. The state of Texas has a hard time serving people there (colonias). All of us have a big problem on our hands if we don’t manage our development. We already know where it (Loop 195) is going to be. It is going to be in that oval, somewhere there,” Vale said, pointing to the map.
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Vale said it is important to find alternative routes for truck traffic crossing into the U.S. from Mexico at his international bridge. He then explained how the loop project might develop.
“We are trying to show egress and ingress alternatives to the international bridge, where we think the truck traffic can go and how the region can develop. Currently, there are about 18 to 20 traffic lights you have to go through. We have new highway construction costing $13 million between 83 and 755, which would be the first leg in the development of Loop 195. Initially the loop will run to the west, section by section until you get to U.S. 83 on the west side of Roma. Then, TxDOT will come back and work towards the east, to connect the new loop to the northwestern part of the urban development in Hidalgo County. We could even have a leg down to U.S. 83 on the east side.”
Vale said truck traffic at the Starr Camargo International Bridge is picking up after a lull in activity around 2010, when cartel violence was at its worst in Tamaulipas. “The last few years we have had a dramatic increase in commercial traffic. We had quite a bit before the 2010 problems that developed on the Mexican side, which basically reduced traffic at a lot of the ports of entry in South Texas. But, truck traffic has been coming back at significantly faster numbers on the commercial side. There is this huge demand by the American consumer for fresh products, fruits and vegetables that were never coming through before. It is because people want to eat more healthy food,” Vale said.