RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas – Starr County Judge Eloy Vera says he has dreamed of connecting FM 490 from the two land ports in his county to Port Mansfield for the past 20-plus years.
Now, with the help of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar in Washington, D.C., he believes that dream can become a reality.
“As you are well aware, this connection between our ports and Port Mansfield has always been a dream that I’ve had, connecting through 490. In fact, ever since Amadeo Saenz was a district engineer with TxDOT,” Vera said, in response to a question from veteran Rio Grande Valley broadcaster Ron Whitlock, of Ron Whitlock Reports.
Saenz was TxDOTs district engineer for the Pharr District at the turn of the century.
“We’ve been talking about this connection because I think that would bring a land port from Mexico to the seawater port of Port Mansfield. That would be a tremendous economic player for Starr County.”
Whitlock had pointed out that Cornyn and Cuellar had helped bring $25 million to Willacy County to dredge Port Mansfield. As a result of the dredging, the port is now able to take ocean going barges.
“Certainly, we’re very thankful to Congressman Cuellar for working on this particular project, and, I know Congressman Cuellar and he (Senator Cornyn) will get it done,” Vera said of plans to expand FM 490 so that it can comfortably handle commercial trucks.
Whitlock interviewed Vera and Cuellar in Rio Grande City.
“Bipartisanship started when these two guys got together, that means John Cornyn, our US Senator, and Congressman Henry Cuellar. They got together and came up with 25 million dollars to dredge the port of Port Mansfield, which was a dying port, descending, it had no economic activity,” Whitlock said.
“It has now been dredged to its deepest level in history. Ocean going barges can come and containerization is just around the corner. It (Willacy) has been transformed, the poorest county in the state, because the port has been transformed.”
By way of example, Whitlock says one million square feet of warehouse space is now slated to be built at Port Mansfield. The companies that plan to build the warehouses are “billion dollar companies,” Whitlock said.
“Now, they me that they want to come to Starr County and have half million square foot warehouses that work in collaboration, water port to land ports in your county, all because of a bipartisan congressman named Henry Cuellar and a bipartisan US senator named John Cornyn, working together at political risk to make that happen,” Whitlock said.
Asked to respond, Cuellar said: “Well, yes, when we talk about the dredging of a port, that’s always good because, first of all, we have our land ports and then we’ve got our seaports. So, we have got to make sure that they all work in coordination. But, especially the land ports that we have here. We’ve got a lot of work to do here. I’m going to be working with the judge here, but the dredging is always good because when you dredge that means you can get more ships and more trade and that’s always good for the rest of South Texas.”
Vera said he agreed with Whitlock’s analysis.
“I couldn’t agree with you more, as far as both the Senator and of course, Congressman Cuellar are concerned. They have really been champions for Starr County and we’re very proud to have them as part of our delegation in Washington.”
Vera then gave another reason to expand FM 490. In addition to the economic development potential, the judge cited safety and security.
“The only east-west route that we have, from Starr County or really from Zapata and Laredo to the Valley is US 83. Lord help us if there’s ever a disaster, where US 83 becomes unavailable to be traveled on. We’re stuck, we can’t get out. So we need another east-west route and my thoughts were 490, one, for security, safety of our people. And secondly, for economic growth in our community.”
Cuellar said he is happy to work on the project.
“Whatever the judge says, I am going to follow his instructions. The judge has been visionary. He really has. I get to work with a lot of county judges in my counties, in my district, and I have to say Judge Vera is one of those hardworking judges that really does put a lot of hours into his work and has the vision,” Cuellar said.
“All you have to do is look around and see what is happening in Starr County. When I first started representing this area, to what I see now, the economic development has been because of the investments that the counties and the local stakeholders have put into this area.”
Whitlock said the situation in his home county, Willacy, is now “phenomenal.” He said the dredging of Port Mansfield has been “transformational.” The same can happen for Starr County if federal funding for major infrastructure projects is made, he argued.
The interview concluded with remarks from Congressman Cuellar.
“I want to thank the judge. I want to thank the folks at Port Mansfield for their vision but I want to thank you because you’ve been an advocate for many, many years and I want to thank you, Ron, for being a champion not only for Port Mansfield but for South Texas,” he said.
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