Thank you for allowing me to be before you today. Welcome to the Magic Rio Grande Valley of South TexasCthe Tropical Paradise of the United States of America. My name is C. Connie de la Garza, Mayor of the City of Harlingen, the third largest city in South Texas and the center of the Rio Grande Valley. I am serving my second three (3) year term as Mayor and have been involved in civic issues in the area for over 30 years.
The purpose of this hearing -- to examine transportation investment along the Southern Texas Border----building upon the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century (TEA-21) is certainly timely. To my knowledge we have never had a Senate hearing on transportation in South Texas. I commend you for being here to listen to our needs and desires.
The average citizen of Texas and the United States of America does not realize that approximately one (1) million people live within a 35 to 40 mile radius of Harlingen between South Padre Island, Brownsville, McAllen, Rio Grande City, Roma and Raymondville. And that is the population north of the Rio Grande River International Border. A greater number that use our transportation infrastructure live south of the River.
The latest U. S. Census figures reveal that two (2) of the top five (5) fastest growing Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the nation are here in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas-Harlingen, Brownsville, San Benito and McAllen, Mission and Edinburg. A third one-----Laredo=s MSA is just up the Rio Grande River from us. Thus, three (3) of the top five (5) fastest growing MSAs in the Unites States are in the southern border of Texas.
Our number one concern is the fact that the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas is the only area in the U. S. with over one million citizens that does not have access to an interstate highway. The nearest interstate is I-37 from Corpus Christi, Texas to San Antonio. Long range plans have U. S. Highway 77 and 281 being converted to Interstate 69 and that is good. But, I just pray it is completed before my three-year old granddaughter is old enough to drive. The point I am making is the legislation that created I-69 stated construction would start on the Rio Grande River and go North. We have yet to see anything happen other than the signs being placed that state AFuture Corridor-I-69".
The future is now. Federal funds for a few overpasses on U. S. 77 between here and Corpus Christi, Texas and on U. S. 281 between Edinburg and Pleasanton would certainly give us Interstate access. This is very important because since NAFTA our commercial truck and automobile traffic between the USA and Mexico has grown tremendously. Statistics readily prove that. The rest of the nation and the world have discovered our business climate in the Rio Grande Valley and Northern Mexico is an excellent profitable climate. We have created many new jobs in South Texas. Adequate and efficient transportation would only enhance our job growth.
Mexico is one of our Nation=s leading trade partner. We want to be able to efficiently transport the goods produced and manufactured on both sides of the River. The highway infrastructure must be enhanced in order for all of us to grow and profit.
In the past highway infrastructure for South Texas and the Border was often overlooked. We have received more Federal and State money in the last five years than we have in last 20-30 years and for that we thank you. But we are behind the curve because of the lack of funding in the past and because of the tremendous population growth in the last 10 years (25%-30% increase) and predicted growth in the next 10-20 years. We need to catch up and build for the future.
Our population and trade growth since NAFTA has also placed a great burden on our railroad systems that go through the middle of nearly all our Rio Grande Valley cities. The main Union Pacific line that cuts my city - Harlingen, in half as well as the City of San Benito, Town of Los Fresnos and Brownsville must be re-routed. The City of Brownsville in partnership with Cameron County and the Port of Brownsville have commenced a plan to relocate the U P Line with federal, state and local dollars. We have also teamed up with Cameron County and the City of San Benito to do the same thing at the north end of Cameron County. The end result would be a Cameron County wide plan to relocate the main Union Pacific line and switching yards to an area away from our population base. Thus, the efficiency of our traffic flow would be increased. As it is now, a great number of our commercial and private traffic is stalled for hours (3-5 times a day) at the rail crossings. Emergency vehicles, fire and police, EMS also have the same dilemma. We must receive the necessary Federal help for the Cameron County Railroad Relocation plan in order to implement it for the benefit of commerce and our citizens.
In closing, I would like to stress that Texas is a donor state that gets only 874 back for every dollar of the Federal Gas Tax we send to Washington. We are 49th out of 50 on the list of dollars returned. We demand equity and would settle for 954 out of every dollar we send. That would enable TXDOT to do much more than what they presently do. I also want to commend the representatives of TXDOT that are present for doing a fantastic job with the limited resources they have. But, together with Federal help and local help we can do more.
I do thank you and your staff for having this hearing in South Texas. I trust you will leave the area with necessary information to make the right decisions for all our citizens. We commend each of you for the excellent job you are doing. Thank you and God Bless.