The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved an agreement with the city of Peñitas to extend Liberty Road from U.S. 83 to Mile 3.
Peñitas will pay $800,000 to Hidalgo County for “project development” work and cover any cost overruns, which may total more than $1 million. Hidalgo County agreed to spend $560,000 in federal grant funding on land acquisition, utility work and construction.
The project will transform Liberty Road from a series of disconnected streets to a major, five-lane road.
“Liberty is, to us in western Hidalgo County, the next Shary Road,” said Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez. “It’s going to open up, essentially, 800 acres of raw land.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Everardo “Ever” Villarreal said Peñitas originally partnered with Hidalgo County on the project.
In 2019 and 2020, when Villarreal ran against then-Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Flores in the Democratic Party primary, Liberty Road became a political football.
La Joya school board President Oscar “Coach” Salinas, who supported Flores in the primary, sent text messages about Liberty Road to Jacinto Garza, the CEO of L&G Consulting Engineers, which had worked on the project.
“Peñitas doesn’t need ever (sic) for the Liberty contract will be awarded to the city,!” Salinas wrote to Garza, according to documents filed in a lawsuit against the school district. “Even Senator Chuy Hinojosa, Congresman (sic) Henry Cuellar, State Representatives Oscar Longoria and Sergio Munoz Jr will push to Award the project to City of Peñitas!”
Villarreal defeated Flores in the primary.
Peñitas decided to handle the project in-house and withdrew from the original agreement, Villarreal said, adding that he respected the city’s decision.
“I encouraged that,” Villarreal said. “Because it’s their city and they’re responsible for it.”
The City Council, however, concluded that Peñitas couldn’t tackle the project by itself.
“We did a lot of groundwork and realized that it was in the best interest of the community and the city and our taxpayers if we would join back with the county,” Lopez said. “And negotiate a price that was beneficial to everybody.”
They struck a new agreement, which put Liberty Road back on track.
“We are thankful that we were able to come to an agreement with Commissioner Villarreal,” Lopez said, adding that Peñitas looks forward to cooperating with Hidalgo County on future projects.
Under the agreement, Hidalgo County would complete Phase II and Phase III of the project. Peñitas agreed to pay $800,000 for the remaining “project development” work and pay for any cost overruns.
“Construction cost overruns, above and beyond the available Federal and State funds of $9,448,858.00 (currently estimated to be $1,044,000.00) either at the time of construction award to the successful low bidder or during the construction project will be the responsibility of the City,” according to the agreement. “These overrun funds shall be submitted to the County within 30 days of County providing written notification of same.”
The Peñitas City Council approved the agreement on Aug. 16.
“They originally wanted $3.2 million to continue with the project,” City Manager Omar Romero told the City Council. “And where we are at is $800,000.”
Romero said Peñitas could make $800,000 available for Liberty Road with a series of budget amendments.
Construction may start as soon as spring 2022.