State Senate leader tours Valley’s transportation systems

HARLINGEN — The Valley’s transportation infrastructure was on display last week during an intensive, four-day visit by the chair of one of the Texas Legislature’s most powerful committees.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, heads up the Transportation Committee.

“He dedicated an entire day to Cameron County,” County Judge Pete Sepulveda Jr. said yesterday. “We went over road projects, rail projects, bridge projects and future projects. It was very well-invested time.”

Nichols came to the Valley fresh off a major political success in getting voters to pass Proposition 7 in November. That measure, which passed with 83 percent support, will supply funding to the State Highway Fund from two tax revenue sources: the sales and use tax and the state motor vehicle sales and rental tax.

That new funding could pay off eventually for Valley projects.

The Valley’s transportation infrastructure is unique enough to take four days to see it all, said Sepulveda and Julian Alvarez, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.

“We talked to him about how we’re going to have six modes of transportation in Cameron County,” Sepulveda said, “highway, rail, airport, seaport, gas transmission lines and we’re going to have space.”

And Nichols, Sepulveda noted, was an engineer before entering politics, and that made him more knowledgeable and appreciative of not just the Valley’s past and current projects, but its future economic development plans.

Among the projects he was introduced to was the West Rail Project.

“He looked at the rail going into Mexico, the West Rail Project — that’s huge,” Alvarez said. “It’s been over 103 years since we had rail there.”

In addition to the West Rail Bridge located about 15 miles upriver from the B&M International Bridge in Brownsville, Valley officials took the senator to the Port of Brownsville, the desalination plant in Brownsville, and gave detailed briefings on SpaceX, the second causeway to South Padre Island and the local status of the I-69 project linking the Valley with Texarkana and ultimately Port Huron, Mich.

“We want that I-69 corridor done,” Alvarez said.

Sepulveda, for one, felt the Valley presented itself well during the tour by Nichols.

“Hopefully, when we go before his committee or the state Legislature, we can get funding for our projects now that they’ve seen first-hand what we’re working on,” Sepulveda said.

Both Sepulveda and Alvarez stressed the tour given to Nichols was a concerted effort by officials from all cities and counties.

“We’re starting to work together in the region,” Sepulveda said. “The Valley’s one big metro area, whether we like it or not. You’re going to see us start regionalizing our efforts in transportation, education and economic development.

“As long as we continue to work together, we’re going to have unlimited growth potential here in the Valley.”