• Falfurrias Expressway Project Passes Halfway Mark
Construction work on six miles of interstate standard freeway on US 281 through the South Texas town of Falfurrias is now more than 50% complete. Work began in late 2009 and is scheduled for completion in 2012 on this I-69 route upgrade.
The $88 million project is being built on the footprint of the existing five-lane urbanized highway through the east side of Falfurrias, a community located some 70 miles north of McAllen. Falfurrias is a town of 5,000 population which serves as the commercial hub of Brooks County.
The project includes five overpasses, one of which is a long bridge section allowing improved local traffic circulation. This bridge will include the intersection with SH 285, the only east-west highway in the area.
The expressway is being developed by TxDOT in cooperation with the City of Falfurrias and Brooks County. The Texas Transportation Commission provided construction funding for the project from the 2009 federal economic stimulus program.
Eliminating the multiple traffic lights and intersection congestion at Falfurrias for long-haul traffic on US 281 has been a goal for local residents and leaders in the Lower Rio Grande Valley for years. TxDOT and the city began working on getting the project built in the early 2000s. Right of way was acquired, plans were prepared and environmental clearance was achieved. The Transportation Commission approved a minute order on May 24, 2007, declaring that the six-mile section would a controlled access facility and designating it as a toll road.
The years of planning paid off in 2009. More than $2 billion in federal stimulus funding was made available to Texas and divided up on a regional basis. The Falfurrias project was one of the few large projects in South Texas that was actually fully “shovel ready” when the stimulus funding became available. Pharr District Engineer Mario Jorge told the Transportation Commissioners at the time of their decision that the South Texas district “tried to put all the eggs in one basket” in pushing forward projects on the US 281 and US 77 routes.
“We were fortunate to have the project ready to go in the Falfurrias area, we’ve invested time and effort on that project, including purchase of right of way, development of plans, so that project is in a good situation to go for bids. It has regional support,” he said.
During a public involvement process in 2004, local interests supported building the Falfurrias improvements as a toll road although it was not fully toll viable. Some Falfurrias business owners indicated they wanted tolls on the expressway to encourage some motorists to stay on the access roads and stop to make purchases.
The toll rate will be set by TxDOT and is expected to be about $1 for the six-mile route. The tolling will be “all electronic,” meaning there will be no opportunity to pay with cash. Vehicles with state TxTags will have their toll automatically charged to their account. Vehicles with no electronic tag will be billed for the toll by mail based on license plate numbers captured by a camera system .
TxDOT has indicated that toll revenue will be used to maintain the new freeway and for other improvements in the area.
Expansion of US 281 on the existing right of way at Falfurrias was possible in part because TxDOT made the decision in the 1990s to acquire the entire parallel right of way once occupied by the Southern Pacific Railroad.