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US-83-La-Joya-Relief-Route-Location-Map-EDINBURG —Hidalgo County and transportation leaders here say they hope a proposed collaborative effort will get the $81 million La Joya bypass project funded and finally constructed after a decade of planning.

On Tuesday, officials with the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) met with Hidalgo County leaders to discuss the partnership.

TxDOT Area Engineer Mario Jorge calls the La Joya relief route, a bypass through Peñitas to Sullivan City, a much-coveted project.

“It’s been a struggle” to get to construction, Jorge told commissioners this week. “The biggest issue has been funding. It’s an expensive project.”

The bypass will allow motorists to avoid streetlight traffic by paying a toll, officials said. The first phase is an 8.3-mile project with the second phase stretching into Starr County and is 5.7 miles long.

The county was able to score $20 million in Proposition 12 funding and will use $7.8 million of the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority’s (RMA) toll revenue from the La Joya relief route, $5.8 million from Hidalgo County in a State Infrastructure Bank loan, $34 million with the state’s Pass Through funding initiative and $13.5 million from the TxDOT Pharr District’s discretionary and road rehabilitation funding to finance the entire project.

On Thursday, at press time, the MPO was set to vote on the county’s portion of the project support.

“We seem to go from feast to famine to feast with our projects,” MPO Director Andrew Canon said on Tuesday. “Now we’re going into one of those feasts.”

The Proposition 12 funding will also allow the county to work on the Inspiration Road overpass, update and improve U.S. Highway 281, along with work connecting U.S. Business 83 to Cameron County.

At the RMA’s meeting Tuesday evening, a few board members indicated they’d rather get their own SIB loan to keep the project an RMA and TxDOT led effort. But Jorge reminded the group that it’s best to take advantage of partnerships that will help them successfully fund projects. Additionally, officials said the county’s assistance would help ease the load for the RMA with its other tollway projects and also help expedite the project, which has been in the works since 1999.

“We’re drawing the money from the same person, the Hidalgo County taxpayer,” RMA Vice Chairman Michael Cano said in a push to get the RMA to work with the county.

While the La Joya bypass is a “coveted” project, with all entities involved wanting a hand in the development, Cano suggested the RMA ensure that someone from the board be on hand for plans, specifications and engineering selections as other board members like David Guerra said they wanted control of costs for the project.

“There’s no doubt we’re going to be handling this project when it comes to construction,” Cano explained. “There’s an offer being made to help us and perhaps expedite this project...This has got to be a true collaborative effort.”

While their nearly hour-long discussion seemed like a turf war, board members stressed they wanted the agency to finally get a project under its belt while ensuring control of the project costs, as well.

RMA member Ricardo Perez said the collaboration would be beneficial to both entities. Continued deliberations over who would cover which elements of the project may derail the effort by another two years, he added.

Burleson assured the board the RMA would develop an agreement with the county that would ensure the group be apart of every element on the project. However, Jorge explained that with TxDOT funding, “we have to agree with every penny spent.”

At Tuesday’s Commissioners’ Court, Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe M. Flores said he’s leveraged funding for several road projects in favor of the La Joya bypass and indicated he’d like the county or his precinct to be in charge of the project’s engineering plans before the RMA takes over for the construction of the project.

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