TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE MEETS IN SOUTH PADRE ISLAND
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND - The Senate Interim Committee on Transportation held a public hearing on Thursday, May 14, at the South Padre Island (SPI) Convention Center. Committee members include Senator Ken Armbrister of Victoria (chair), David Cain of Dallas, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Mario Gallegos of Houston, Drew Nixon of Carthage, Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant, Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi. The committee is traveling throughout the state this interim to study issues relating to transportation including whether current methods of funding transportation projects allow the state to respond adequately to increases in population and congestion, whether funding promotes alternative modes of transportation, and whether legislative changes are needed in relation to the operation and funding of metropolitan transit authorities. The committee is also studying railroad accidents and determining if there is a need for state action.
The hearing opened with testimony from Tom Goodman, a local realtor and a member of the SPI Chamber of Commerce, regarding the need for a toll bridge to South Padre Island. Harlingen Mayor C. Connie De La Garza testified about the route of Interstate 69 (I-69); and railroad congestion and the traffic resulting from the movement of trains through the community. Hildago County Judge Renato Cuellar testified on the need to continue upgrading highways 281, 77, and 83. Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa testified that the construction of I-69 should be a top priority and should start in the Rio Grande Valley, and the importance of the Rio Grande Valley getting its fair share of funding. Mike Allen, representing the South Texas Manufacturers' Association, testified that most of the train traffic is for grain and steel and most of the maquiladora traffic is trucks. Mr. Allen supports a dedicated commuter lane that allows traffic to be electronically controlled; commuter traffic would be pre-approved for entry.
The former Mayor of Harlingen Bill Card discussed infrastructure development in the Rio Grande Valley. He said that the Valley area was a bottleneck in transportation as it relates to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and it should be a priority area; more crossing lanes should be opened and the construction of I-69 will provide a direct route from Montreal to Mexico City. The Rio Grande has five times the amount of traffic crossing the border as compared to Laredo. Laredo is the largest mainland port in the United States. Others testifying included Allen Johnson, Vicechair of the Turnpike Authority; Raul Besteiro, CEO of the Port of Brownsville; Gary Wayes, of Motel Management; Charlie Brown, of Valley Trucking Company; and Robert Nichols, Commissioner of Texas Department of Transportation.
The next hearing will be held June 3 in Corpus Christi. The committee will report its findings and any necessary recommendations to the 76th Legislature which convenes in January 1999