Edinburg officials say they have wrapped up a “victorious week” in Austin for key infrastructure projects and look ahead to see a local impact as a result of an national economic stimulus package passed by Congress last week.

On Tuesday Feb. 10, coinciding with the city’s “Edinburg Day” in Austin, officials said they received only the beginning of a planned $40 million facelift for the South Texas International Airport located north of Edinburg on FM 490 and Hwy 281.

Later that week on Thursday, Feb. 12, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, then confirmed that TXDOT would prioritize funding projects along U.S. Highway 281, bringing the highway up to Interstate standards, and ramping up the flow of commerce for future economic growth in South Texas.

On Friday, economic officials then announced that retail sales for December spiked more than 20 percent from the same time in 2007 as result of the Shoppes of the Rio Grande Valley.

“Its been great week,” said Ramiro Garza, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation executive director at a ribbon cutting for the city’s newest road, Pin Oak Avenue which connects University Drive to Sprague St.

“We had a very successful Edinburg Day at the Capitol, we spread our message out there as far as our needs. Of course then we come back to Edinburg to find that in a Comptroller’s report our sales tax is up over 20 percent.

“It’s a great way to end the week. We end it by opening this road that was very much needed. It’s a new road that has been extending from University to Sprague and the important thing is that Wal-Mart will now have greater access for traffic, and more importantly going to enhance Wal-Mart’s ability to grow their store and continue to be successful,” Garza said.

Airport Improvements

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week offered an airport improvement grant to the City of Edinburg worth $1.6 million dollars for runway expansion. The project will make improvements to the airport’s cargo apron, and allow the facility to handle larger freight and cargo shipments.

The money will go towards runway expansion with the federal government paying 90 percent of the estimated project costs and the City paying the remaining ten percent.

Edinburg officials want to ultimately extend the runway to 10,000 feet for a cost of about $40 million. The city currently has an initial proposal for 7,200 feet already designed and “ready to go” in anticipation of the economic stimulus.

“In talking to people from TXDOT and aviation in particular we were able to move that $1.6 million we had been granted and finally we will be able to improve our apron and continue the dream we had for our airport,” said Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa.

EEDC’s Garza says this is a “shovel ready” project and only alludes that there are “a lot more that are going to be created” once funds become available.

“The city is going to be looking at all opportunities to take advantage of as many opportunities as we can,” Garza said. “Those are some of the projects that will be included.”

Highway 281

Sen. Hinojosa announced that Gov. Rick Perry and Dierdre Delisi, Chairwoman of the Texas Department of Transportation, will commit funds to proposed U.S. 281 upgrades.

Hinojosa along with TXDOT officials believe that increasing mobility along Highway 281 will attract new investment to South Texas.

Proposed improvements to U.S. 281 would also enhance mass evacuation capacity in the event of hurricanes or severe flooding, Hinojosa said in a statement. Recent storms, including Hurricane Dolly, which hit South Texas, tested Texas’ evacuation routes. Funding these projects puts South Texas one step closer toward being fully prepared to meet severe weather threats.

TXDOT targeted key congestion areas in a proposed package which includes road widening, new construction, repair of existing roads, and resurfacing along the U.S. 281 corridor.

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas and Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios also met with Chairwoman Delisi to discuss how four ‘shovel-ready’ projects in South Texas would strengthen the local and state economy and aid in mass evacuations of the region in case of a hurricane or other disaster.

The four projects — located in Falfurrias, Ben Bolt, George West and Premont — are aimed at bringing U.S. 281 up to interstate standards. Hidalgo County is the only major metropolitan area in the country without an interstate within 100 miles.

U.S. 281 is ranked No. 3 out of seven NAFTA corridors in Texas, handling about 1,300 trucks per day, and that number is expected to double by 2030, according to the County. Texas roads carry 87 percent of the nation’s NAFTA traffic, according to the County.

MPO funds for

infrastructure?

Currently lobbying efforts are focused on several major street improvements in Edinburg including Jackson Road, Canton Road, and Sugar Road “coming up pretty soon,” according to the city.

Potential stimulus funds will be distributed through TXDOT, which will then distribute funds to the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in essence creating a “pot of money” available for projects, according to the EEDC.

Plans call for Jackson and Freddy Gonzalez to be widened. The city is asking TXDOT to help with Freddy Gonzalez. The city has not yet designated any road improvements as “shovel ready,” according to city officials.

“I think the jury is still out on what the federal mandate is going to be in terms of guidelines, and beyond that how the state agencies are going to make funding available to qualify as any one of these potential projects,” said city manager JJ Rodriguez. “It’s still very preliminary, we are gearing up to try and get stuff labeled in terms of what we want to submit for consideration.”

There are currently no indications if and when Edinburg may follow McAllen’s lead in submitting a proposal or asking for a specific amount from the stimulus which is awaiting president Barack Obama’s signature as of early Monday.

It appears that through TXDOT and the State Legislature that the federal stimulus includes projects that extend beyond roadway projects to include drainage and sidewalks, according to Rodriguez.

“We do have confirmation that funding will be funneled through state agencies like TXDOT and others,” he said. “The rest is knowing the details of when funds are going to be available, (and) what parameters are going to be set in place.”