HARLINGEN — Lowly sidewalks usually aren’t topping anybody’s list of key factors in economic development.
But the Harlingen Economic Development Corp. believes they’re a big deal, and has pledged more than $240,000 to help defray city costs for a major city sidewalks project set to begin next year.
The overall cost of the project, which has designated eight areas for 17 miles worth of new sidewalks, is $4.3 million.
Most of that funding will come from TxDOT, with other monies made available from community development block grants, the Federal Transit Administration and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.
“The City of Harlingen has been lucky enough, and savvy enough, to receive a lot of grants in the recent fiscal year to improve a lot of the sidewalks along some of the major thoroughfares here in the city,” Raudel Garza, executive director of the HEDC, told the board Tuesday night. “Along with some of these state grants there’s usually a local match that’s required from the community.
“The city manager has asked the HEDC to look at some of these projects and pick four of the projects that really had kind of a larger impact on commercial enterprises throughout the city.”
The economic agency’s funding of city roadway projects is an unusual use of its resources, and several board members questioned whether it was appropriate.
In the end, the board unanimously approved $241,091 to go toward the city’s match for four sidewalks projects with heavy commercial and business presences along the routes.
“All four of these do impact our commercial areas,” said Kayla Michal, the HEDC’s commercial development and marketing manager.
One of the areas, she said, was along Expressway 77 from the city limits near Harlingen Medical Center to Wilson Road. The medical center area in particular needs more mobility options for patients and their families.
“Allowing sidewalks there would give walkway and walkability for the visitors, for the patients’ families to get back and forth to Ed Carey,” she said.
Another section would be along 77 Sunshine Strip, a high-trafficked area with heavy commercial development.
A third would be the Loop 499 area near Texas State Technical College where new sidewalks would link the college with new housing developments to the south.
A fourth section would put down sidewalks along both Tyler and Harrison avenues, from Dixieland Road east to around F Street.
Gabe Gonzalez, an assistant city manager, told the board the city has already appropriated the money for the TxDOT portion of the sidewalks project and that the HEDC could pay now or upon the completion of the project, which could start about three to six months from now.
Gonzalez said the city was seeking the unusual path of HEDC funding for the sidewalks because of the increasing emphasis in economic development studies and urban planning to provide multi-modal transportation options.
“The city has been posting a great amount of its economic development on mobility throughout the city,” Gonzalez said. “I think our trails and our sidewalks provide better accessibility and market your city much more to companies that are looking to come into the area.
“They look at trails, they look at sidewalks, they look at your mobility plan like we have with Valley Metro, they look at any other mode of transportation other than vehicles that you can provide to your citizens,” he added.
Board member Eric Ziehe, a commercial real estate broker, concurred with Gonzalez’s characterization of the desire among developers for alternative mobility options.
“The Urban Land Institute backs up what you just said with regards to the view of cities from the perspective of developers,” Ziehe said.
Where are the new sidewalks going?
Location — Harlingen Medical Center to Wilson Road
Cost — $946,107, funded by TxDOT
City match — $75,688
Location — From Dixieland Road to approximately F Street, both Harrison and Tyler
Cost — $1.3 million, funded by TxDOT
City match — $104,006
Location — Loop 499 to Treasure Hills
Cost — $605,528, funded by TxDOT
City match — $48,422
Rio Hondo Road
Location — Rio Hondo Road and north on Morgan Boulevard
Cost — $497,169, funded by Federal Transportation Administration and Lowe Rio Grande Valley Development Council
City match — $99,434
Location — East Harrison Avenue to Rio Hondo Road
Cost — $519,019, funded by TxDOT
City match — $12,975
Location — 6th Street from Buchanan to Jefferson
Location — Buchanan from approximately South A Street to 6th Street
Cost — $397,878, funded by CDBG
City Match — 0