Paving the way: South corridor work could be moved up

SAN BENITO — The second phase of the South Parallel Corridor could be moving more quickly than initially envisioned.

County Commissioner David A. Garza said the Commissioners Court recently approved an Advanced Funding Agreement, a TxDOT requirement, which could help accelerate the start of Phase II.

The $8.5 million project will cover 5.2 miles and will link FM 509 and FM 1577 on the southeastern edge of San Benito. The first phase, completed in May 2016, is a 2.11-mile stretch from Rangerville Road to FM 509.

Phase III will take the corridor to I-69E/U.S. 77 near Brownsville.

The new highway, which tracks south of the interstate, will cut through agricultural land which is largely undeveloped. Project backers say they hope the corridor will help ease traffic congestion in Harlingen and San Benito, provide an alternate route in case of hurricane evacuation and also spur economic development.

“Obviously, the name itself is ‘parallel’ to I-69/U.S. 77, and we hope that people from Harlingen and San Benito, and even from Brownsville, might use this new roadway to the Bass Pro area, or the mall, instead of taking the normal route on the expressway,” said J. Joel Garza Jr., director of the Harlingen-San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The original plan was to let Phase II of the project for bids in January 2019. But with the county’s fast action on the AFA and other pre-construction requirements, it could mean bids can go out sometime in 2018, officials said.

“We have been working on getting the right-of-way map in place and doing some field surveying work and doing some work on that project,” said County Administrator David A. Garcia. “So where we’re at right now is we have completed our right-of-way maps and submitted those to TxDOT and we have been released to start working on the property acquisition portion of the project.”

The new route could be attractive to trucking companies in Mexico. With a cold storage facility under construction at the Free Trade International Bridge at Los Indios, it is expected to enhance the appeal of the crossing to produce haulers seeking a quicker border transit than at the Pharr bridge.

Also, in anticipation of that traffic, an overweight corridor for trucks has been created on FM 509.

“It’s not fully utilized, the traffic flows at that bridge,” Garcia said. “They are not as much as you see at other crossings so that is an added incentive to moving products as quickly as possible.

“The demand and the movement of cargo shipments in this day and age is just-in-time deliveries, so we hope that the shippers that are moving those products through Mexico and into the United States will see it as an added benefit,” he added.

Both Garcia and Joel Garza also stressed the South Parallel Corridor is expected to bring economic development in the form of new businesses and homes to the largely rural area it will traverse.

“There is still a lot of area where residential and commercial business can be developed,” Garcia said.

Much of the funding for the corridor project has come from the federal Coordinated Border Infrastructure Reserve Fund. The fund gives border states like Texas more flexibility in how and where they apply federal transportation funds.

TxDOT Projects Update

FM 106 roadway reconstruction

Location: From FM 1847 to FM 510

Cost: $15.6 million

Project Length: 11.4 miles

Contractor: Texas SAI Inc.

Work started: November 2015

Completion date: December 2017

Work finished: 68 percent

The project consists of a major overhaul of the roadway and includes several wildlife underpasses and adjacent fencing.

BSIF at Los Indios

Location: Los Indios Free Trade International Bridge

Cost: $6.9 million

Project Length: .001 miles

Contractor: Foremost Paving Inc.

Work started: February 2015

Completion date: March 2018

Work finished: 78 percent

The new border safety inspection facility will inspect trucks from Mexico entering the United States. Work on the facility has been suspended since September while TxDOT awaits a land donation from Cameron County.

U.S. 281 roadway rehabilitation and widening

Location: From FM 509 to .05 miles west of FM 1479

Cost: $3.9 million

Project Length: 1.65 miles

Contractor: Foremost Paving Inc.

Work started: February 2017

Work finished: 22 percent

Bridge rehabilitation Rio Hondo lift bridge

Location: Rio Hondo

Cost: $12.4 million

Project length: 0.117 miles

Contractor: PCL Civil Contractors Inc.

Work started: Summer 2016

Completion date: February 2018

Work finished: 84 percent

The project consists of a complete overhaul of the mechanical lift bridge over the Arroyo Colorado.

State Highway 107

Location: Combes

Cost: $3.7 million

Project length: 0.465 miles

Contractor: Foremost Paving Inc.

Work started: August 2017

Completion date: October 2018

Work finished: 14 percent