Hidalgo County Regional Mobile Authority
Located in Pharr, Texas, the Hidalgo County Regional Mobile Authority (HCRMA) is an independent governmental agency created in 2005 by the Texas Transportation Commission and the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court. HCRMA was formed to accelerate the timeline of necessary transportation projects in the area.
The need for critical infrastructure, mainly roadways, is ever present throughout the U.S., but in Pharr, an area experiencing a massive import boom, the need is urgent.
“The purpose of our organization is to facilitate infrastructure projects in support of the growth of the transportation industry in Pharr,” explains Pilar Rodriguez, executive director of HCRMA. Rodriguez is supported by Celia Gaona, CIA, chief auditor and compliance officer, Carlos Moreno Jr., acquisition coordinator and Flor E. Koll, program administrator of HCRMA.
Local logistical challenges
HCRMA was formed in response to the import boom over the last decade in south Texas, particularly in Pharr. In the state’s Lower Rio Grande Valley, many new businesses are breaking ground, while existing companies are ramping up capacity, opening their doors to more products from fruit and vegetable growers in Mexico.
The Pharr region exists at the tail end of the new SuperVia Highway, a direct route connecting the western shores of Mexico to south Texas. Traditionally, produce has traveled from Mexico to Laredo or Arizona, but now traders can shorten their route by six or eight hours by taking the super highway up through Pharr.
This more direct route has quickly made the region an import hub and Pharr is uniquely positioned to take full advantage. According to a study by the Texas A&M Center for North American Studies, by 2020, fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico to Texas are projected to grow by more than 73 percent – the equivalent of 615,000 truckloads.
At the heart of this growth is the state’s Rio Grande Valley, which will receive nearly 60 percent of total produce imports from Mexico. To take on such an increase in imports, Pharr needs to ramp up infrastructure quickly. Fortunately, that is where HCRMA comes in.
“The target import industry we’re looking at is produce,” says Rodriguez. “Traffic studies show we need more mobility in Hidalgo County and to improve transportation networks. To put in perspective, there are about 25 ports of entry from El Paso to Brownsville, Texas; six are in Hidalgo County.”
“The lion’s share of produce comes through Pharr –the city has 21 percent of the market share,” measures Rodriguez. “Everyone else is looking at single or low double digits at best. There is a lot of traffic coming across the border into Pharr and that’s what we’re looking to service.”
Developing transportation solutions
HCRMA was created to address the mobility issues in the county directly, from the standpoint of a developer, to provide project oversight. “We can handle everything from roadways to international bridges, airports to mass transit systems and facilities –anything that addresses mobility,” says Rodriguez. “The most pressing type of infrastructure needed is surface networks and roadways in Hidalgo.”
This includes routes that can handle large shipment capacity. “In Texas the legal weight for trucking freight is 80,000 pounds, but in Mexico trucks can load up to 125,000 pounds,” explains Rodriguez.
“We’ve been working to upgrade routes into Texas that can handle 125,000 pounds and allowing access through permit,” he continues. “This helps the process because before, trucks had to stop and unload, break down the loads to the right weight and reload. With fresh produce, time is of the essence and unloading and reloading means more time before the product reaches the consumer, or a damaged product at that.”
Rodriguez adds that HCRMA is currently in the planning and design process for another 50 miles of roadway construction to ramp up capacity and reduce traffic congestion in Pharr. “Essentially, we’re the developer for this multiyear construction project to build 50 miles of interstate highway systems in proximity to the Pharr-Reynosa Bridge,” he says. “We’re using consultant firms and going by the traditional design-bid-build construction method.”
The breakdown includes three active projects: State Highway 365, including 13 miles of toll road; the International Bridge Trade Corridor, connecting to State Highway 365 with another 13 miles, and the State Highway 68. “State Highway 68 is in conjunction with the Texas Department of Transportation,” notes Rodriguez. “TXDOT is the lead contractor but we’re a partner on the project, which includes another 20 miles of roadway.”
There are no signs of the import boom slowing in Pharr. As more produce makes its way from Mexico to the produce import hub, the Hidalgo County Regional Mobile Authority is paving the way to more efficient transportation and a thriving center of commerce.