• Rio Grande Valley Celebrates Success in 20-Year Quest for I-69
Signing ceremonies in Harlingen and Pharr plus a joy filled celebration luncheon in Mercedes on July 15th marked the fact that in a single day every major community in the Lower Rio Grande Valley became the proud host of an interstate highway.
The four Valley counties had a 2010 population of more than 1.2 million and are continuing to grow rapidly. When taken together with the adjoining cities across the Rio Grande, the sprawling metropolitan area has a population of nearly 2.5 million – about the same as Dallas County. The Valley is no longer the largest urbanized area in the nation more than 10 miles from the nearest interstate highway.
Former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was a guest of honor for the day. Alliance Chairman John Thompson reminded a cheering audience that “she has been our champion for so many years.”
“I was in the Senate for 20 years and so often you don’t see the fruits of your labor,” Hutchison said. “It is so wonderful to be here today to see this really happen. Now all we have to do is connect the places that are ready for designation. This is going to transform South Texas.” She said she had never seen a more united effort for a Texas initiative than the universal sustained support for I-69.
The parade of speakers included David Garza, Cameron County Commissioner and Alliance board member; Polk County Judge Thompson; Jeff Austin III, Texas Transportation Commission member from Tyler; Congressman Ruben Hinojosa of Mercedes; Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo; Texas Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville; Phil Wilson, TxDOT executive director; Robert Tally, Texas administrator for the Federal Highway Administration; and Ramiro Garza, Edinburg city manager and I-69 Advisory Committee member.
“You are going to see additional signs erected along the routes in the next few weeks, months and years,” Thompson said. “But I am telling you, there is something is very very sweet about those first signs. My congratulations from the Alliance to all those from the Valley that have worked so hard.”
“None of us reaps the full benefits of I-69 until it is all completed. Every piece of I-69 that becomes interstate standard is important. We stand ready to work with all of you to help build the rest of I-69 in Texas,” said the Alliance board chairman who is from Livingston.
Commissioner Austin reminded his audience that the signs erected that day symbolize growth, connectivity and economic development for a critical region of our great state. He singled out the Alliance for its 20 years of persistence. He said that now that the interstate designation has been accomplished at the south end, the north end and in the middle, it is time to work on the gaps. “It is not time to rest. It is time to encourage all your neighbors to the north to work together to find solutions to those gaps,” he said.
INTERSTATE 69 MEANS BUSINESS
In celebrating the day Congressman Cuellar pointed out that “I-69 is important because the busiest freight routes in the country are down here in South Texas.” He called it truly a team effort.
“Why are we doing this – to improve the economy – tourism, border retail, quality of life and business. Texas is the No. 1 importing state in the country with $1.2 billion a day in trade across the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexico is a friend and we need to make sure we are connected,” he said, noting that there are more than 2.5 million truck crossings at South Texas ports of entry every year. “That means big business and is why I-69 is so important," he said.
Congressman Hinojosa predicted the interstate designation of Valley freeways will bring even more trade and commerce through Rio Grande ports of entry. “It will end the isolation of more than 1.5 million people living without an interstate and I am proud to have been a part of it.”
Senator Lucio took time to honor four men he considers to be giants in Rio Grande Valley history because of their contribution to I-69. They are the late Bill Summers, former executive director of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and vice chairman of the I-69 Alliance; the late Col. Bill Card, a banker and former mayor of Harlingen; David Alex, Chairman of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority; and Alan Johnson, Chairman of the Port of Harlingen Authority.
Lucio talked about the children of South Texas and the importance of an infrastructure legacy. “The infrastructure that will be unfolding will connect us to so many places including down through Mexico and Central America. This is something we have been working on for so long to improve the development that needs to take place, to bring the necessary jobs and businesses here,” he said.
"I am humbled to have played a part in making our collective dream become reality, and I'm grateful to the Texas Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and our counterparts in Congress," he said.
Members of the Texas House of Representatives from the Rio Grande Valley were not able to participate in the festivities because they were involved in a floor debate during a Special Session in Austin.
TxDOT’s Wilson recalled that he was present when the first “Future I-69 Corridor” sign went up in East Texas in 1993.
He called the 2011 passage of federal legislation brought forward by the Alliance “a sea change that changed the conversation” on I-69. It changed the rules for designation of completed highway segments and made the signing in the Valley possible. The legislation was carried by Sen. Hutchison, Congressman Blake Farenthold and Congressman Hinojosa, and supported by the entire Texas delegation.
“I69 is the culmination of the advancement of good policy, having resources and bringing them to bear. And lastly communities of interest being represented. It is not just the Valley, just not Laredo, just not Houston and not just Texarkana. It is all those partners coming together. Today we’ve got the plan. Now you’ve got the policy. Let’s go find the money.”
"As the booming population of Texas continues to add more vehicles to our roads, we must find ways to keep motorists moving safely and efficiently," he said.
Commissioner Garza said, “In the over 25 years of public service of which I have been involved with in our area, this has to be the most important, significant and historical game changer for the entire South Texas region, both strategically and economically.”
FHWA Administrator Tally reminded the audience that interstates like I-69 and I-2 are rivers of trade that keep America’s economy strong.
I-69E, I-69C and I-2