State funding road projects: Cameron County to receive large chunk

Cameron County made out all right in the Texas Department of Transportation and Unified Transportation Program 2021 project funding plan, which the county announced on Aug. 27.

County Administrator Peter Sepulveda Jr. said the 10-year UTP plan for 2021 includes major funding for big projects the county has been trying to accomplish for decades in some cases. It features $96.6 million for the East Loop Project, which will eventually connect Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates with the Port of Brownsville’s south side, $22.5 million to expand F.M. 1732 from two to four lanes from I-69E at Olmito to Military Highway, and $7.5 million to extend F.M. 509 to the Outer Parkway in Harlingen.

The F.M. 509 extension is a big step toward eventually connecting the Los Indios Free Trade Bridge with I-69E via the Outer Parkway, and will remove commercial traffic from densely populated areas, Sepulveda said. Widening F.M. 1732, which is heavily traveled by commercial and passenger vehicles, plus adding a middle turning lane will make things safer along that stretch of road, he said.

UTP 2021 also contains money that will get South Texas much closer to the long sought after goal of having interstate highway all the way from Brownsville to Corpus Christi. When that happens, it will be designated as I-69E rather than U.S. 77, with no stop lights and no school zones.

The plan contains $540 million for U.S. 77 improvements in Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties in addition to Cameron County, including $115 million for the Riviera Relief Route. Construction on the Driscoll Relief Route in Nueces County is about 50 percent complete, Sepulveda said. There’s also funding for a “grade separation” project to eliminate the school zone issue at Ricardo on U.S. 77 between Kingsville and Riviera, he said. UTP 2021 also features $127 million for improvements to the I-37/U.S. 77 intersection.

“ That will get us closer to having the entire 125 miles between Brownsville and Corpus Christi signed as I-69E, which will be huge for the area when you’re talking about luring industry to Cameron County,” Sepulveda said. “That would mean that the Port of Brownsville would have an interstate leading into the port. … I haven’t done the numbers but we are going to get really, really close to completing that.”

He said he’s very happy with the amount of funding allocated and that nearly every project the county was advocating received funding.

“ The East Loop Project, it’s probably been on the books for three decades,” Sepulveda said. “It’s great to finally see it in the plan. The ball is now in our court to make sure that we go to the … development phase for all these projects and get them under construction. … Now is the time to go to work and make sure that we expedite the development of those so that we can tap into those construction dollars.”

Another plus is that all this UTP funding means construction jobs, he said. Sepulveda said the merging of the Rio Grande Valley’s three Metropolitan Planning Organizations into one definitely helped the county maximize its UTP 2021 funding, and that with more hard work and preparation the county can land even more funding next year.

“ We’re going to work now,” he said.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said the Valley is now seeing the fruits of the decision to merge the three MPOs, and that the multi-jurisdictional projects proposed over the next decade will “improve the quality of life of our residents.”

“ The submitted projects are vital for our community and will greatly assist with the flow of traffic, commute time, promote public safety and maintain continuity of the Texas state highway system,” he said.

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com