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Tempers flare at county meeting over RMA project

Hidalgo-County-SealTempers flared at the Hidalgo County Commissioners Tuesday meeting during a discussion of allowing McAllen and Mission to put money into completion of State Highway 365 to a point west of Conway Avenue.

In the past few years the Regional Mobility, Authority has been working to get funding for the stretch of SH 365 from Anzalduas Bridge west to the Donna Bridge, Phase I of the Hidalgo County Loop Project. This included 15.28 miles of road from FM 396 east to US 281. Phase II of SH 365 was 2.65 miles of road from FM 1016 (Conway Avenue) to FM 396.

A second project known as the International Bridge Trade Corridor would run north from FM 3072 in the east and west from FM 493 in the east to US 83 (a total of 13.1 miles of road) at a cost of $233 million. Both segments of the corridor are on the eastern side of the county.

Because of a need for transportation to the west, McAllen and Mission officials got together and offered to fund the engineering, design and acquisition of right-of-way to a point just past Conway Avenue on Bentsen Palm Parkway. Then, there would be a search to see if funds for construction were available. The estimated cost of the project including construction was $60 million, and the cities would look for funding for construction costs.

The matter was discussed at an RMA meeting where members of the board for the RMA refused to consider the proposal. Their reasoning was that RMA had decided long ago that the eastern section of the loop would be constructed first. There was no need to change plans. Pct. 3 Commissioner Joe Flores asked that a member of the RMA come to the meeting to explain why the project was denied.

Dennis Burleson, who had voted in favor of the project, said it would be less expensive to build SH 365 if all sections of the highway were done at the same time. The route would provide access to trucks moving west on Expressway 83 without first having to go to Pharr. In addition, Mission would have its environmental clearances done before the RMA clearances on the section moving east and could start construction.

State Rep. Armando Martinez told the commission he had been able to secure $85 million for State Highway 68 from Donna to US 281. The International Trade Bridge Corridor (ITBC) had been $18 million short but Martinez had been promised $25 million to complete that segment.

Concerns were voiced over the proposed McAllen-Mission Project to complete SH 365 to Conway Avenue. If the project were allowed would the promised money be moved from the designated projects such as the IBTC to that project?

Martinez said the money was now in place to build 50 miles of the proposed toll road and it was not the time or place for Mission Mayor Beto Salinas to be aggressive and get the money moved around to his project.

Commissioner Joe Flores asked why Mission had to stay behind. If Mission had to wait until the toll road in the east was complete, it would be 10 to 15 years before the western section of the road was built. Completion of SH 365 is vital to the economy of the western side of the county, he said.

David Guerra, McAllen’s representative to the RMA and president, said the RMA selected this route years ago and there should not be any interference in the plan. With the exception of two members representing the western side of the county, everyone else voted against the McAllen-Mission proposal. Guerra also stated the RMA wanted to be able to select the engineers doing the project.

Beto Salinas later told Progress Times the Anzalduas Bridge would be open to truck traffic in 2015. Mexico built a new highway from Mazatlan and Durango, coming through Monterrey, and the Anzalduas Bridge would be a popular crossing for trucks moving cargo west. Salinas wanted to have the work done as soon as possible because officials in Mexico were requesting that it be done. He also said state officials wanted the segment from the Anzalduas Bridge to Conway Avenue to be completed.

Salinas said traffic on the Pharr Bridge already is congested and relief is needed. McAllen and Mission are willing to participate in the cost of the project, something no other municipality on the RMA route had promised to do.

There is also the possibility of a railroad expansion in the area and there would need to be two overpasses if this happened, added Salinas.

“This is a good project because there are many trucks going west,” said Salinas. “I am going to find a way to get it done.”

According to a letter from McAllen Mayor Jim Darling to Mayor Beto Salinas, one of the conditions placed on McAllen’s obligation to the funding received for the western connection is that it should not affect any of the resources being made available to the RMA for the other projects. Each city, McAllen and Mission, would contribute $2.5 million to the project to connect Conway Avenue to SH 365 now.

Following discussion, Virginia Townsend, of OWLS (Objective Watchers of the Legal System), told those present they sounded like the old story of the bucket of crabs. Instead of being willing to work together to get a project completed, they were trying to tear each other down.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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