South Texas' major transportation arteries received a significant boost from the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) this week.

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, confirmed that TXDOT will prioritize funding a variety of 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.

This multi-million dollar undertaking will alleviate key congestion points along the U.S. 281 corridor, according to Hinojosa who along with TXDOT officials believe that increasing mobility along Highway 281 will attract new investment to South Texas.

"Mobility is efficiency, and for years South Texas has lacked a direct northern route without points of congestion," Hinojosa said. "This sizeable investment in South Texas' highway infrastructure would streamline the transport of goods and people.

"A project of this magnitude transforms South Texas into a viable, full-service transportation corridor attractive to business interests because of its efficient access to Mexican markets," Hinojosa said.

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.

The proposed improvements to U.S. 281 would also enhance mass evacuation capacity in the event of hurricanes or severe flooding. 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.

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

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, Salinas said.

“The future economic growth of Hidalgo County and the 281 corridor looks brighter than ever," Salinas said. “Even without these improvements, that goes to show how much these upgrades were needed — a substantial amount of traffic was already using Hidalgo County as its entry point to get goods to the markets.”

Upgrades are expected to start construction as early as this fall in Falfurrias, according to the County.

Business growth will lead to increased per capita incomes of our residents and a better quality of life, and In the short-term will also generate jobs. For every $100 million spent, about 1,500 jobs are created, Salinas said.

The commitments to fund the four projects along U.S. Highway 281 stand regardless of whether the federal stimulus bill passes, according to Sen. Hinojosa. Currently, three of the four projects are slated to be funded with the stimulus money, which would yield about half of the $200 million needed for the projects.

"We just can’t thank our elected officials in Austin enough, especially Sen. Hinojosa, who was an early supporter of this project and helped organize the U.S. 281 Coalition," Salinas said. The Coalition is a group of county judges, commissioners and business leaders along the corridor.

All of our elected officials have seen how this project would not only benefit our region, but also strengthen Texas’ economy as a whole,” Salinas said. “This shows that when public and private interests come together for a common good as in the U.S. 281 Coalition, we can make big things happen.”