The Texas Department of Transportation is working on a plan to create a new east-west corridor in the northern part of the Rio Grande Valley that would connect Roma to a second causeway at South Padre Island.

TxDOT’s Pharr District Engineer Pedro “Pete” Alvarez said the corridor will be needed because the Valley is expected to add one million more people over the next 25 years, growing from 1.4 million to 2.4 million by 2040.

“The Valley will grow, there is no doubt about it. We have a constraint and that is the Rio Grande River, so we are going to grow north, we have no choice. Today, when you see FM 1925 you see urbanization, development. I believe in the next 20 years, that line is going to go up to FM 490, north of Edinburg,” Alvarez said.

“So, let’s start looking further west, let’s start looking at Starr County. In the future, we could travel from Roma to South Padre Island, a commute that might take two and a half hours today but that could in the future take an hour and a half. That is a great opportunity.”

Alvarez said TxDOT is working with consultants to ensure we the environmental studies and schematics are complete for the Starr County segment of the new corridor. “Are these projects funded? No, but our goal in the Pharr district is to make sure we provide an option, an opportunity, for our TxDOT commission to possibly fund this project in the future. At the end of the day we do have $72 billion in the ten-year Unified Transportation Plan.”

Alvarez made the above comments in a presentation at the 1st Annual State of Regional Mobility and Infrastructure Luncheon hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership in Edinburg recently. He expanded on his analysis of where the growth will occur in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian on Thursday, following a luncheon hosted by the Society for Marketing Professional Services-Rio Grande Valley. The event focused on transportation issues in Hidalgo County.

In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Alvarez said a new corridor from Roma to South Padre Island would shave about an hour off the two and a half hours it takes currently using U.S. 83, Interstate 2, Interstate I-69 East, and U.S. 100.

Alvarez said the new corridor would be built in phases, connecting different segments.

“There are several segments. There is state loop 195, a relief route between Roma and Rio Grande City. There would be a connection between FM 755 and the Hidalgo County Loop. The route would go along the Hidalgo County Loop, and then along FM 1925, the Monte Cristo project, from U.S. 281 to U.S. 77. It would then connect to the Outer Parkway project, that Cameron County RMA is working on, which goes from U.S. 77 to FM 106. The FM 106 project, which is currently under construction, would go to the Second Causeway,” Alvarez said.

“So, the route as a whole has five or six different segments in it but it is intended to be a parallel corridor to connect the northern part of the Valley.”

In his remarks at the SMPS event, Alvarez mentioned development of FM 490 north of Edinburg.

“The comparison I was trying to draw there is, FM 490 right now is considered a rural area, it is where the Edinburg Airport is at. But, 20 years down the line, FM 490 is going to be populated just like FM 1925 is right now. That is what I am anticipating based on how the Valley continues to grow.” Alvarez said.

Alvarez said there is no question that the first phase that needs to be built is the one connecting Hidalgo and Cameron counties, because that is where most people in the Valley live.

“If we look at it as a phased approach we need to connect Hidalgo County to Cameron County and South Padre Island first. The other parts of the project would come in future years. The congestion that is being experienced in Roma, Escobares and Rio Grande City is because U.S. 83 is handling over 40,000 vehicles a day on a five-lane roadway. That roadway cannot handle that much traffic, that is why there is congestion. The important thing is to provide a relief route for commuters who are going from the Valley to, say, Laredo, along the U.S. 83 corridor.”

Asked how long before a new east-west corridor is built in the northern part of the Valley, Alvarez said:

“I would say within the next five to seven years we would be in a position to start looking for construction funding. Right now, we have preliminary schematics. We are working on the environmental. We are going to start the right of way acquisition process and so we are moving along, ready for construction in five to seven years, should the funding be available.”

Alvarez said many Valley residents may not understand just how big the Valley is going to get.

“Here in the Valley we need to understand we are growing at a tremendous rate. Our population is expected to go from 1.4 million to 2.4 million in the next 25 years. So, we need to learn how to work together as one, to have priority projects that have been identified because at the end of the day we want to play with the big boys, we do not want to be the small guys. We want to be part of the conversation with the big guys, moving forward to handle the transportation needs of the area. We will have a big say, as we continue to grow and work together, with one vision, united, an advocate for the entire region.”