A glowing entryway: City creating a future full of color under expressway

HARLINGEN — At the city’s gateway, bushy native shrubs share the sprawling grounds with shaggy Mexican fan palms.

Soon, flowering trees like royal poinciana, wild olive and orchid trees will stand under the Interstate 69 overpass, lining the sides of Harrison and Tyler avenues.

Officials will fund the $353,000 project through a $250,000 grant that came with last year’s Governor’s Community Achievement Award and local money.

“For everyone driving in and out of Harlingen, it’s going to make a huge impact to see our city as a beautiful, clean community,” Mayor Chris Boswell said Wednesday at the City Commission meeting.

Officials are counting on the project to be the first to landscape the city’s busiest underpasses, said Melissa Boykin, executive director of Keep Harlingen Beautiful.

“We want this to be a catalyst for projects to follow,” Boykin said.

City leaders selected the Harrison and Tyler underpass because it has become the city’s gateway near the fast-growing Harlingen Heights shopping district anchored by Bass Pro Shops.

“We thought it would have the biggest impact,” Boykin said. “That little stretch is probably one of the biggest focal points coming in and out of Harlingen and that’s our shopping area.”

The landscape will feature about $43,500 worth of flowering, native trees and shrubs, said Javier Mendez, the city’s parks director.

“We wanted color,” Boykin said.

Officials want to give the 205-foot by 310-foot landscape the ambiance of a park.

“The center will be full and lush with plant material and then scale back to low ground cover,” Mendez said.

Officials selected native trees and shrubs because they are hardier and require less maintenance.

“We decided to go that route so the plants have the best chance of surviving and the flowers will attract birds and butterflies,” said Jeff Lyssy, the city’s parks superintendent.

Officials are trying to determine whether their budget will allow the purchase of artificial turf.

“We were real concerned about the maintenance,” Boykin said.

As part of the project, officials will install lighting under the overpass.

“The lighting will enhance the beautification of that area,” Boykin said. “It’s not the most well-lit area so that will make a huge difference there.”

Officials plan to begin work in about three months and complete the project about four months later.