In order to facilitate trade along Highway 281 or in the event of an evacuation, it is vital to remove bottlenecks along one of the most important highways in the NAFTA corridor, according to Hidalgo County officials.
The county is encouraging Edinburg and all other cities to adopt a resolution supporting increased funding for four key infrastructure projects along Highway 281.
In a presentation at the Edinburg City Council’s regular meeting on Jan. 20, the county asked city officials to adopt a resolution to present to congressional and state leaders emphasizing the city’s position on funding for infrastructure projects along the 281 corridor.
The county hopes to include Edinburg’s resolution along with others as part of one total package, which as a whole will comprise one of the largest items on the county’s legislative agenda. Officials hope to have a resolution from all the communities by the end of January.
“We are hoping it’s not just a county resolution, but we are hoping all cities including McAllen, Mission and Edinburg all adopt one,” said Sofia Hernandez, Hidalgo County economic development coordinator. “We are trying to reach out to the stakeholders, (and) the business community so that there is no misunderstanding about what the projects are, where they are and what we are trying to do in terms of advocating for those projects.”
Edinburg’s resolution could echo the one supported during the most recent U.S. 281 Coalition meeting held Jan. 8 in George West. At that time County Judge JD Salinas gathered with officials from Live Oak County and others along the 281 corridor to advocate for improvement of four key projects on the highway including those in Falfurrias, Premont, Ben Bolt and George West.
Proposed improvements would address bottlenecks along 281. This includes direct connectors from U.S. 59 going east to IH-37 northbound, and U.S. 59 westbound to U.S. 28 going south through George West; an overpass in the school zone in Ben Bolt; a possible tolled relief truck route around Premont or tolled freeway going though Premont.
Improvements also include seven miles of freeway with three overpasses in Falfurrias. The cost of these projects could range anywhere from $193 million to $242 million.
“It was really just to say ‘hey, we understand that in order to facilitate trade and commerce along 281 as well as reasons in the event of an evacuation it makes sense to remove bottlenecks,” Hernandez said.
Those projects that are ready for construction could be included in the American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The federal stimulus package being proposed by president Barack Obama would include $825 billion to jumpstart the economy.
“Every community is in different stages,” Hernandez said. “Some of these projects are ready to go for construction therefore they are in the stimulus package, some are in the public hearing process. So we are just trying to organize them in terms of priorities and we shared that with the community.
The County has said it wants to include the Raymondville Drain as part of its economic stimulus package at a cost of about $250 million. The county will also ask the state to match any federal funding received as part of its legislative agenda.
At the state level the county is still trying to work with Texas Transportation Commission chairwoman Deirdre Delisi, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa to emphasize the importance of these projects, according to Hernandez.
“Say we get some money from the federal government, we need to get the difference from possibly the state. That will be part of our legislative platform,” she said.
The county is tentatively looking to hold “County Day” at the Capitol in Austin from Feb. 9 to Feb. 10.
RESOLUTION ON IMPROVING U.S. HIGHWAY 281
WHEREAS, a safe and efficient transportation system drives economic growth and competitiveness, supports rural and urban connectivity and sustains jobs and the quality of life for our citizens; and
WHEREAS, U.S. Highway 281 is one of the most important NAFTA corridors linking more than 250 manufacturing plants or Maquilas in Mexico to Interstate 35 and Interstate 10 from San Antonio; and
WHEREAS, U.S. Highway 281 ranks 3rd among the seven highway corridors in Texas which carry 83% of all truck trade value between U.S and Mexico and 10 percent of the value of all U.S. international trade; and
WHEREAS, the Texas Department of Transportation estimates that the vehicle miles traveled by medium to heavy trucks weighing 10,000 pounds or more will increase by 330 percent by 2030; and
WHEREAS, U.S. 281 is a safe emergency evacuation route for the Rio Grande Valley; and
WHEREAS, the only obstacle to expediting traffic and trade along this important NAFTA corridor is the four bottlenecks in Falfurrias, Premont, Ben Bolt and George West; and
WHEREAS, several leaders from the Counties of Hidalgo, Brooks, Starr, Jim Wells and Live Oak have come together to seek highway investments to fix the bottlenecks so that U.S. 281 can operate like an interstate; and
WHEREAS, these leaders have identified four priorities: Priority 1 - Falfurrias, which consists of improvements estimated at $87.5 million for five overpasses; Priority 2 — Ben Bolt, improvements estimated at $13 million for an overpass at FM 2508; Priority 3 — Premont, improvements of up to $104 million to upgrade the existing route; and Priority 4 — George West, which includes an estimated $21.5 million for a free right turn lane and rail road overpass and $50 million for improvements that will facilitate traffic trying to get on I-37 from U.S. 281 from either George West and/or north of Three Rivers as may be preferred by these communities; and
WHEREAS, the Texas Department of Transportation has included three of the four priorities — Falfurrias, Ben Bolt and a portion of George West — along U.S. 281 in its submission to the United States Department of Transportation as projects ready to begin construction should the United States Congress pass an economic stimulus bill and provide federal funding for these two priorities.
WHEREAS, the upcoming legislative review of the Texas Department of Transportation in Texas and the pending re-authorization of federal highway programs provide an excellent opportunity to re-examine the funding for transportation infrastructure and the prioritization of projects and policies.
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court urges the Texas Legislature and Congress to invest in improvements to U.S. Highway 281 that will increase the capacity and performance of this vital traffic and trade corridor.
Adopted this ______ day of January, 2009 at a regular meeting of the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court.
JUAN D. SALINAS III
SYLVIA S. HANDY HECTOR “TITO”PALACIOS
County Commissioner, Pct. 1 County Commissioner, Pct. 2
JOE M. FLORES OSCAR GARZA, JR.
County Commissioner, Pct. 3 County Commissioner, Pct. 4
ARTURO GUAJARDO, JR.