• Federal Approval Finalized for Valley Interstates
On a two-day swing through South Texas, Federal Highway Administrator Victor M. Mendez made it official by announcing the final federal approval of designating three Rio Grande Valley freeways as part of the national Interstate Highway System.
A total of 113.6 miles of freeway on US 77, US 83 and US 281 will be added to the Interstate 69 system at one time. Mendez was touring South Texas at the invitation of Congressman Filemon Vela Jr. who represents District 34 which includes about 240 miles of the I-69 route as it runs through Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy, Kenedy, Kleberg, San Patricio, Jim Wells, Bee and Goliad Counties. Vela is a new member of Congress representing a newly created district. He serves on the Homeland Security Committee and the Agriculture Committee in the House.
The announcement was made during a luncheon meeting hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, a founding member of the Alliance for I-69 Texas.
Plans are now being made for one or more a signage unveiling ceremonies to be held later this summer by TxDOT, the Valley Partnership and the Alliance for I-69 Texas. The freeways will be signed concurrently as I-69E/US77, I-69C/US 281 and I-2/US 83.
"I-2 and I-69 will bring future economic opportunities along this corridor. For an economic standpoint the potential is tremendous. It is important for us in terms of connecting our economies throughout the nation and ultimately to the rest of the world,” Mendez said.
TxDOT District Engineer Mario Jorge noted that the state has been working hard for more than 15 years to reconstruct Valley highways to bring them up to interstate standard.
Alliance for I-69 Texas Chairman John Thompson of Polk County said, “I am so proud of what is going on in the Valley and what is going on up and down the I-69 corridor. But, most of what is going on right now that is newsworthy is in the Valley. Hopefully it will expand up the state. I am so proud of the cooperative nature of the Valley leaders. And I am so proud to be here with longtime friends. We have worked together for so long. It is a great day.”
SUMMERS, CARD RECOGNIZED
Cameron County Commissioner David Garza agreed with Thompson’s sentiments. At a Harlingen event he asked for a moment of silence to remember two of the Valley’s biggest champions for I-69, the late Bill Summers of Weslaco and the late Col. Bill Card Jr. of Harlingen..
“This is a culmination of years and years of work by many dedicated Valley folks, some of whom are no longer with us, such as Bill Summers and Col. Bill Card. They never got to see this happen. For the rest of us it is a dream come true. The significance of I-69 is immense. We will be able to look back in 20 years and see the growth that occurred because of these interstates. It will be just like what happened in the Dallas area,” Garza said.
Valley Partnership CEO Julian Alvarez also recognized the contributions of Summers and Card. Summers headed the Valley Partnership for 22 years until his death and was a board member of the Alliance for I-69 Texas from its inception in 1994.
Congressman Vela said that with 1.2 million people living in the Valley counties and even more living just across the border in Tamaulipas, the region deserves to be served by the Interstate Highway System. “From a metropolitan standpoint we are one of the largest areas in the country. We have to keep driving that point home in Washington, D.C.,” he said. Vela also said it was an exciting time to be representing the Valley with interstate signage on its way, a new university and medical school already announced and, potentially, the SpaceX project being worked on in Brownsville.
Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia agreed. “So far, 2013 has been good to the Valley. Both our state legislative delegation and federal legislative delegation have been working to develop our area properly, which is important. This is a big step,” Garcia said.
Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza said that while it is exciting to see interstate designation happening in the Valley area leaders in South Texas could not rest until U.S. 77 and U.S. 281 are upgraded to interstate standard between the Valley and Interstate 37.