Lecture Hall, 80 Fort Brown University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) Science Education Technology Building, Brownsville, Texas 78521
President/CEO, Mission Economic Development Authority
Chairman Inhofe, thank you for your leadership; Senator Cornyn, we appreciate your return visit on this business of the Senate; and Chairman Johnson - thank you for being here today to share your agency’s views. And, thank you, Mr. Stockton and Mr. Frankel for your visit and testimony. You have heard from many of our regional leaders today, and I hope I won’t take too much time repeating what has already been said.
I am the President of the Mission Economic Development Authority, an organization charged with continuing to foster growth in the 4th fastest growing MSA in the nation for the past 5 years according to the U.S. Census Bureau (and in the top 5 for the past 10 years). I want to briefly wrap up and touch on some things that were not mentioned but will have an impact on our highway infrastructure.
One of those is the Sharyland Plantation, a 6,000 acre master planned mixed-use community that currently includes 10 residential subdivisions, a growing retail sector, apartments, an extended-stay hotel, a 43,000-square-foot medical diagnostics center and a 900-acre business park, with 650 acres in foreign trade zone status. Several companies, such as Symbol Technologies, Black & Decker and T-Mobile, already have begun operations at the business park. And as Mr. Summers noted earlier, trade with Mexico is growing, and they are becoming an even more important trade link for our economy. The tenants at the business park all have direct ties to Mexico and will be responsible for even more U.S.-Mexico trade activity.
Some of these businesses expedite products being shipped from other states to Mexico, and others take products, assemble them in a finished product and ship them back in to our country. For example, Whirlpool is one of 6 companies in the McAllen/Reynosa area choosing a campus environment of 40-60 acres in size with end products resulting in as many as 100 trailers outbound from each campus, and nearly as many inbounds. Some of Whirlpool’s sub-assemblies are northbound through the heart of Texas to Tulsa, where Oklahomans turn them in to stoves. In spite of trends elsewhere in Mexico, we expect even more companies to join Whirlpool, Corning Cable and Maytag. We say that with confidence because Reynosa is the only city in all of Mexico not to show a loss in jobs in the maquiladora industry for the previous two years (INEGA 2003). So, our continued growth is linked to the economic growth of other areas in Mexico, Texas and in many parts of the U.S.
Another development in the Valley that will impact trade and our highway system is the proposed Anzalduas Bridge. It is expected to be complete in 2006 and much of this bridge is locally funded by the partnership of Mayor Franz’s city, Hidalgo, and the cities of McAllen and Mission. This bridge truly represents an international partnership. The U.S. Border Station, TxDOT, area governmental entities and others partnered with the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and the city of Reynosa on this bridge project. This new bridge will have a direct impact on the Sharyland Plantation by providing a direct connection between the Sharyland Business Park and the business and industrial parks in Mexico. Key to this connection is Grupo Rio San Juan, owner and developer of approximately 16,000 acres of land containing the Mexican port of entry and a master planned community containing a large and growing industrial park, Parque Villa Florida, complimenting that of the Sharyland Business Park. A major tenant in Villa Florida is Black & Decker, whose presence has encouraged suppliers to locate on both sides of the border.
The Anzalduas Bridge has been planned to allow better highway connections and avoid disruptions for trade traffic. The U.S. port of entry is 3.5 miles south of Expressway 83 (future I-69), with 12 miles separating I-69 from the Autopista tollway linking Reynosa to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Monterrey is the industrial capital of Mexico, with over 4 million inhabitants only 120 miles away. Our existing bridges strain to handle the current volumes of traffic, especially trucks. With 47% of all trucks and 30% of all vehicles using Texas land ports crossing the bridges in the Valley, new connections that link our border to major trade highways are the key. Trucks waiting at the border mean higher costs and lost profits. As per the terms of the U.S. Presidential Permit, the bridge will open accommodating passenger vehicles and incorporate commercial truck access as inspection agencies and GSA secure necessary Congressional funding authority.
Links to our international bridges are also important now that our traditional traffic patterns are north-south oriented. The Military Highway (SH 1016/US 281) expansion is an example of how we can create additional connections between international bridges and relieve some of the traffic on U.S. Expressway 83, which is nearing or at capacity in some areas.
As you heard today, interstate service is extremely important for the Valley. We remain the single largest populated area in the nation without interstate highway service. Several speakers have pointed to statistics on what I-69 would mean to the area, the state and the nation, so I won’t repeat those. The bottom line is that the Valley is already handling levels of truck traffic comparable to areas of the state that have interstate highway service. As an example, there are as many as 10,500 trucks on interior segments of U.S. 281 on any given day, which is comparable to I-10 in Harris County and I-45 in the Dallas area.
You have already heard today about our support for an amendment to TEA-21 or new language in the federal reauthorization bill that will assist in designating highways that connect to U.S. deep water ports or U.S. ports of entry to the Interstate System.
You have seen the results of the just completed update to the regional mobility plan and heard about some other major transportation needs, such as rail realignments and additional east-west corridors, such as Military Highway. This project, by the way, could link bridges and help relieve traffic on U.S. Expressway 83, which as I mentioned is already overburdened though expansion work is barely completed in some sections. It is also a possible toll project, one that could serve as a model for coordinating preservation of important habitat areas and roadway planning and development.
By the way, a word or two about our regional mobility plan. This effort is 100% locally funded. A thank you is due to Valley elected officials and leaders for their support of this effort and their hard work on this project. It is really a unique effort given the large geographical area and coordination of multiple MPOs and rural areas. A note of appreciation to the Valley Partnership and Mr. Summers for his leadership over the last decade on this effort and to the very competent and professional folks from the Pharr District of TxDOT for their daily help with transportation planning, construction, and maintenance.
Mayor Franz already touched on the importance of streamlining the environmental process for critical transportation projects. President Bush’s Executive Order in October 2002 for streamlining environmental review of important infrastructure projects, such as I-69, and your work Chairman Inhofe is exactly on point with our concerns.
You have also heard about some of the issues we confront daily as the result of heightened homeland security measures and immigration policies. We hope we will be included in discussions on future policies in terms of their impact on our communities, and look forward to working with you, Senator Cornyn, on the much needed reforms to the immigration system. We cannot stress enough how important it is that you be cognizant of historical, cultural and family connections on both sides of the Rio Bravo as you deliberate these issues.
As noted earlier, we are grateful for the hard work the Transportation Commission and our local legislative delegation has done this session. Commissioner Johnson, we are ready to help with efforts to educate our region about the importance of passing Proposition 14. And, Chairman Inhofe and Senator Cornyn, we are here to assist Congress with reauthorization of TEA-21 and to work with the Commission at the state level on this legislation, Trans Texas and their other plans.
Again, I want to thank you for being here today and for everything you do for our communities.