As a region grows, especially one that is developing as quickly as the Rio Grande Valley, the infrastructure that is in place has to grow and adapt to the changes. Weaknesses or issues which are not properly addressed can often have a negative impact on the local economy, or at the very least, they can slow down potential growth.
This understanding of the need for improved transportation infrastructure, especially in the border region, is the main reason why earlier this month the Texas Transportation Commission submitted a recommendation for $150 million to be set aside for the US 83/US 281 interchange project. The historical growth rate of both the population and traffic in the Rio Grande Valley has caused noticeable strain in certain areas of local highways and has also highlighted the need for advanced planning to address potential future transportation problems.
Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, one of the chief proponents behind the campaign for funding, has long recognized the importance of addressing the nature of traffic surrounding US 281 and US 83, especially at the Pharr Interchange.
He called the funding “critical” to the improvement of local transportation and something that will play an important role in local communities. All work done would have a direct economic impact on cities like McAllen, Edinburg, Pharr, Mission, and Weslaco.
The undertaking, called the SH 68 project, will receive its financial support from the 2017 Unified Transportation Program (UTP).
UTP is the basis for authorizing projects for construction and other types of development and planning. The Texas Transportation Commission uses the UTP as TxDOT’s 10-year plan for transportation projects, covering everything from highways and aviation to public transportation and state and coastal waterways.
As is currently described by the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) and the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), SH 68 calls for a four-lane divided rural highway. Future mainlanes and overpasses will accompany this passage in the eastern part of Hidalgo County connecting US 83 and US 281.
Senator Hinojosa’s comments on how the construction will address the “congestion” and “bottlenecks” that are currently in place echo the sentiments of TxDOT. The purpose outlined by the organization has three major components.
The first centers on improving north and south mobility. One particular point is a hope that the connection between SH 68 and US 83 will provide a faster route for trucks to make their way from international bridges to FM 2812.
While the main bridges that would see the effects of the new highway would be the Pharr and Donna crossings, international trucks heading northwest could reach roads like US 107 and FM 2812 faster, giving them quicker access to businesses in the towns north of Mission like Palmhurst and Alton.
The same businesses would have an additional route to reach customers located to the east in the Rio Grande Valley.
The project also aims to increase the capacity to travel for both local and regional traffic. By alleviating some of the gridlock that occurs, residents of Mission would have greater access to other cities. Similarly, people living on the eastern side of Hidalgo County would be more likely to come visit what is available in the Mission-McAllen-Edinburg area.
The need for an additional evacuation route during emergency events also played into the decision to get the construction going on this highway. Providing another route for traffic heading north and south was critical in ensuring protection for local residents in cities like Mission.
The process surrounding the proposal and approval of the project has been thorough. Beginning with an environmental assessment, the planners involved eventually decided that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be needed as things moved forward.
A number of issues beyond just the effect that construction and the use of the new roadways would have on the local area factor into the EIS. Planners also consider future conditions like air quality and noise, water quality, local threatened and endangered species, and the aesthetic aspects of construction.
Another major aspect surrounding the development and implementation of this work has been the much needed and meaningful involvement of the public. Senator Hinojosa himself acknowledged that the strong support and time invested by members of local communities were essential in the plans for SH 68 being funded.
TxDOT provides information on the time and place for all meetings and hearings concerning the planning around this project. If there are any comments or suggestions residents and other local figures or organizations have, they will have the chance to be heard. There are still important meetings scheduled in 2017 for any interested parties to attend.
Your Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce encourages residents to take advantage of the opportunity to be involved in deciding how the construction of the US 83/US 281 interchange plays out. Our city and the surrounding metropolitan area will be directly affected by the results of the project.
The Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce strives to keep all members and business owners in the community informed about vital happenings that affect our regional economy.
As always, we invite you to contact us at 956-585-2727 with any questions regarding this and any other pressing issues that play a role in our community and economy.