Monday, October 19, 2009

Oberstar's whirlwind tour of Cameron County a big success, say officials

Oberstar's whirlwind tour of Cameron County a big success, say officials
Rio Grande Guardian
Picture: U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, (left) visits the 'Mexican side' of the border wall at Hope Park in Brownsville.

BROWNSVILLE, Oct. 19 - Local political leaders say a whirlwind tour of Cameron County by a key U.S. House committee chairman will produce tremendous short and long term benefits for the area.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, paid his first visit to the Rio Grande Valley on Sunday, as a guest of U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi.

“It was a brilliant day for Cameron County,” said Cameron County Commissioner David Garza. “Chairman Oberstar was totally impressed by the partnerships we have with our friends in Mexico and by the important projects we are working on. We told him we are not waiting for handouts. Rather we are getting things done with public and private partnerships.”

Oberstar, D-Minnesota, landed in Harlingen just before 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. Over the next 12 hours he visited the Port of Brownsville, the Fun N Sun RV Resort in San Benito, the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport, the Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates, the West Railroad Project, the downtown Brownsville Levee Project and observed construction of the border fence at Hope Park in Brownsville, the Cameron County floodway system, the Bahia Grande wetland restoration project, and the potential site of the second causeway. Ortiz and the Cameron County leaders even found time to throw a fundraiser for Oberstar at the Sea Ranch Restaurant on South Padre Island.

Possibly the most important aspect of the tour, given that Oberstar chairs the transportation committee, was discussion on funding for I-69.

“Our meeting on I-69 was most productive. We discussed our application for Tiger grants,” Garza said. “Many people do not realize that Chairman Oberstar was in Congress as a committee clerk before he entered Congress so he has been involved in transportation issues for 40 years. This gentleman was a working encyclopedia in terms of information on the interstate system and the politics on why some areas of the country do not have interstate.”

Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos emphasized the need for an interstate and the need to bring more jobs and infrastructure to the area. “We have four modes of transportation in Cameron County – highway, rail, maritime and air – and we need to take advantage of that,” Cascos told Oberstar.

Ortiz said Oberstar’s visit will unquestionably boost Cameron County’s chances of obtaining federal funding for transportation and infrastructure-related projects.

“Chairman Oberstar was kind enough to join us in South Texas this weekend so he could hear first-hand from community, county and state representatives about the needs of our community,” Ortiz said. “I am thankful he was able to join us as we visited some of the most important on-going and future projects that are in need of funding or reauthorizations.”

Garza said because the border wall is not finished in Hope Park, Oberstar was able to go around to the “Mexican side” of the fence. “It is one of those things where you are either in jail or out of jail,” Garza said.

Garza said there was also discussion about Cameron County’s growth projections. In 2000 the Census Bureau said the county’s population was around 330,000. Garza said he believes the 2010 Census Bureau figures will show the county’s population to be more than 400,000. “Chairman Oberstar told us that if you wait for things to happen in Congress you can wait 40 or 50 years. He told us to be proactive and was, I think, very impressed with our vision,” Garza said.

David Allex, chair of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, pointed out the urgency of addressing projected growth patterns over the next 20 to 30 years. “In the year 2040 the population in our area will be in excess of seven to ten million. We need to start working to address mobility, congestion and economic development for the benefit of future generations today not tomorrow,” Allex said..

Garza said he liked the phrase Ortiz coined at the dinner for Oberstar. “Congressman Ortiz said we are sitting on a goldmine in Cameron County and that all we need are the tools to get it out of the ground and use it. I agree with that. My phrase is: ‘the stars are aligned.”

Among those who visited with Oberstar on the tour were Garza, Cascos, Allex, TxDOT Pharr District Engineer Mario Jorge, Port of Brownsville CEO Eduardo A. Campirano, Port of Brownsville Chair Carlos Masso, Port of Brownsville Commissioner Ralph Cowen, and Cameron County Bridge Director Pete Sepulveda, Jr.

Oberstar said he was impressed with everyone and everything he saw on the whirlwind tour.

“Today, community leaders in South Texas reaffirmed to me the needs this community has,” Oberstar said. “This community is rich in culture and history, and I will do all I can to help the continued growth and development of this area.”

Write Steve Taylor

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