Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for State Highway 550 couldn't have been windier if it had taken place in a wind tunnel.
But organizers persevered and local luminaries took turns at the podium, buffeted by gale-force winds, praising the completion of the second phase of a project touted as creating a more efficient and safer link for commercial trucks between U.S. 77/83 and the Port of Brownsville.
The third phase, which will provide the connectors to U.S. 77/83, should be done in about a year, according to David Garcia, deputy county administrator and assistant coordinator for the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority.
More big news came in the form of a surprise announcement by Victor Mendez, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, invited to the event by U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, as part of a tour of his district’s transportation projects.
Mendez said that the FHWA has authorized redesignating U.S. 77 from University Boulevard in Brownsville all the way to Raymondville to Interstate 69 East.
“That’s the full 53 miles,” he said. “The importance of that from an economic development standpoint is just having an interstate shield on a highway is really important, positive thing in terms of future development.”
It’ll also mean a much safer road in light of the FHWA’s strict standards, Mendez said.
The redesignation puts the Lower Rio Grande Valley a major stride closer to being connected to the rest of the nation by an interstate route.
As for the opening of S.H. 550, Brownsville port Director Eddie Campirano said it was welcome news from the port’s perspective because of the opportunities it presents.
“One of the great things it does for us, and why we’re a collaborator on this project and why we donated right of way for the road, is that it opens up significant amounts of port land for economic development purposes,” he said. “This is a real important project for the region.”
Of the total $41 million cost of the S.H. 550 project, $34 million was paid for by federal stimulus through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“It goes to prove that the Recovery Act did what it was intended to do,” Mendez said. “It created jobs. It put a lot of people to work.”
Vela said state and county officials — many of whom were on hand for the ceremony — deserve a great deal of credit “for all the work the have put in to turning these projects into a reality.”
“The ideas and the work that are behind our transportation systems are something that we take for granted,” he said.