Congressman Vela addresses transportation, infrastructure priorities for South Texas

Robin Bradshaw
Alice Echo News Journal

Congressman Filemon Vela (TX-34) released a statement on his address to the House Committee on transportation and infrastructure for South Texas at the Members’ Day Hearing on Thursday, April 15.

The hearing gives state leaders the opportunity for members of the U.S. House of Representatives to highlight issues of importance to them and their constituents as Congress works to reauthorize surface transportation programs as well as participate in the Committee’s work on all future transportation and infrastructure issues within Committee jurisdiction.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, was an early supporter of President-elect Joe Biden and is being mentioned as a possible Cabinet pick.

“Revitalizing our nation’s infrastructure is a necessary investment that will improve America’s productivity and long-term growth,” Congressman Filemon Vela said. “Improving our land ports of entry, expanding broadband connectivity in urban minority communities, and continuing the development of the I-69 interstate would not only create jobs for South Texas residents but also boost our region’s economy. Nearly 3 in 5 Americans agree that it is time to overhaul and improve our nation’s infrastructure. In Congress, I am ready to get the job done.”   

"As you prepare legislation on infrastructure investments, "I would like to highlight several important funding priorities for my constituents in the 34th District of Texas the land ports of entry, broadband, and the Interstate 69 (I-69) system," Vela added. These issues represent opportunities for major infrastructure investment, which is both necessary and past due. 

Vela released the following statement:

Land Ports of Entry:

It is critical that we provide $6 billion for our land ports of entry (LPOE). Investments in improving the aging infrastructure at our ports of entry are necessary for a safer and more prosperous America.

“As you know, many of our LPOE have long standing infrastructure needs that impede both security and commerce. Mexico and Canada are two of our three largest trading partners, and every day, hundreds of thousands of commercial trucks, passenger vehicles, and pedestrians cross our LPOE on the northern and southern borders. Our LPOE are in dire need of upgrades to address the considerable increase in trade and commerce with these two countries over the past few decades, and the anticipated continued growth of products and people crossing at our land ports.  Improvements of LPOEs will also be an important step in directing federal resources to smart border enforcement efforts. 

“President Biden has made clear his understanding of the “importance of transforming our crumbling transportation infrastructure – including roads and bridges, rail, aviation, ports, and inland waterways”, and specifically mentioned his plan to “invest heavily in improving the aging infrastructure at all of our ports of entry.”  Building infrastructure is a critical part of putting people back to work and reviving the economy.  Upgrading the facilities at our LPOEs would not only bring good jobs to local communities and boost our country’s economy, but it would also strengthen our national security and facilitate trade and travel.

Broadband

Congress must also provide significant funding to address the severe and ongoing need for internet connectivity in urban minority communities. My district is home to successful small businesses, cutting-edge universities, and a strong workforce poised to benefit from fast and reliable internet. However, many of my constituents have been left behind by the broadband market. According to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), the Rio Grande Valley is home to the first, second, and fifth worst-connected cities in America. 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted, broadband connectivity is a crucial need for South Texas, and we must work to ensure every home has affordable and accessible internet connectivity. We must prioritize funding for urban areas, including municipal-owned networks, and remove unnecessary barriers that prevent local governments from providing this critical utility to their communities."

The I-69 System

Congress must prioritize the continued development of the I-69 interstate system, which will facilitate transportation and economic development throughout the country. This multi-modal network has been an ongoing need for a quarter of a century, connecting ports of entry in the Lower Rio Grande Valley with American suppliers and consumers in eight states. 

“In order for this pivotal transportation corridor to be fully completed, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21stCentury Act (MAP-21) must be updated to allow continued progress on the interstate system. Communities that are a part of the interstate system benefit from increased visibility, transportation safety, and economic investment. We must remove the existing deadline requiring new segments to connect with the Interstate System by 2037 and allow the Secretary of Transportation to designate new highway segments, provided all standards are met. Moreover, we should expand the National Highway Freight Program (NHFP) formula funding eligibility to include Congressionally-designated Future Interstates that are in a state’s USDOT-approved Freight Plan, as well as projects that are eligible for Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Project program grants (INFRA). These changes align with the original intent of the system and would ensure communities are able to complete not only the important I-69 corridor but all future interstates.