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The Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport should have its sleek new terminal building by the end of the fourth quarter of 2020, according to airport director Bryant Walker.

Airport ground traffic is being rerouted around what used to be the parking in front of the existing terminal and is now the spot from which the bones of the 91,000-square-foot, $43.8 million, electrochromic, glass-walled structure are rising.

The old terminal, built in the early 1970s and later expanded, is nonetheless cramped and obsolete, incapable of handling a sufficient number of passengers or aircraft, Walker said.

The project remains on budget and on schedule since breaking ground in December 2016, he said. All the pilings have been poured. Precipitation has been an issue for no more than 10 days, though rain days are built into the construction schedule, Walker said, adding that the contractor has requested no additional rain days so far. Other delays to date have been minor, he said.

“We did have some materials conditions,” Walker said. “We found some soft spots in the dirt when we were backfilling the foundation. We had to dig a little deeper than we were hoping to in order to fix that problem. You expect to run into things like that.”

Once the new terminal is open, the existing one will be demolished and its former footprint turned into ramp space for aircraft parking, though no demolition contract has been awarded yet, he said. Walker said the old terminal should be gone, all evidence of its existence erased and everything looking complete in the first quarter of 2021.

The $43.8 million is for the terminal building and “land-side” part of the project (as opposed to the air-side segment, between the new terminal and runways), he said. Construction of the terminal and land-side is being paid for through a combination of certificate-of-obligation bonds and Federal Aviation Administration funds.

The FAA is also paying for the air-side elements, including demolition of the old terminal. Walker estimated the air-side cost at around $8 million but said no firm figure is available yet. The jet bridges that will connect the terminal to aircraft will be paid for through Passenger Facility Charges, a fee that’s part of the cost of every plane ticket, he said.

“It’s a mechanism airports use for funding certain capital improvement projects,” Walker said.

Because bids for the terminal project came in higher than expected, some design features were left out of the original plan, he said. Contracts for some landscaping, for example, have yet to be awarded, Walker said. At the same time, the city is stepping up “to include some elements that would make more sense and be more cost effective to include now rather than later,” he said.

The city plans to install lighting along the airport entrance, for instance, Walker said.

“Being held so strictly to the budget, we were very good at designing a functional terminal,” he said. “It did not have elements that might be considered extraordinary or extravagant. Adding these elements in is not making it something extraordinary, but they’re things that are very nice to have. Lighting on the roadway is not required, but it’s a good thing to have.”

STEVE CLARK STAFF WRITER

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, RGV – The incoming mayor of South Padre Island has praised RGV leaders for setting up a regional metropolitan planning organization, pointing out that this could hasten the arrival of a second causeway to his city.

In his first major interview since winning the SPI mayoral runoff election, Patrick McNulty said he is looking forward to millions of additional dollars becoming available for the second causeway project.

Tens of hundreds of millions of additional transportation dollars are likely to come to the Valley now that the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board has been formed.

Patrick McNulty

A second causeway for SPI is deemed a major regional project because it would include the Outer Parkway connector from the causeway to Harlingen and the expansion of FM 1925 from Harlingen to Monte Cristo Road in Edinburg.

“I think it is great that Cameron and Hidalgo counties and all the municipal entities have agreed to work together to form the one MPO,” McNulty told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“I think it is an excellent opportunity to grow our transportation infrastructure substantially quicker. There is no doubt we have been held back in the past. I look forward to South Padre Island having an opportunity to join the MPO, along with the other tri-cities.

The tri-cities McNulty was referring to are South Padre Island, Laguna Vista and Port Isabel.

“The new MPO is going to give us an excellent opportunity to push for a second causeway for South Padre Island. The second causeway will be desperately needed, if it is not already, as our tourism opportunities continue to grow. We have to focus on our tourism and let that sector grow.”

Asked if he was aware that the Valley is set to secure far more transportation dollars as a result of the merger of Hidalgo County MPO, Brownsville MPO, and Harlingen-San Benito MPO, McNulty answered affirmatively.

“Mayor (Dennis) Stahl has kept us informed. He has played a very active role in the background, encouraging the regional MPO to be created. I know Harlingen has been working on it for a long time. This has been a long time in the making and it is great that the municipalities and the counties have come together for the benefit of the whole Rio Grande Valley. The MPO will be the catalyst for incredible economic opportunities.”

Asked if he was aware that a second causeway to SPI was being touted as one of the new MPO’s top regional projects, McNulty also answered affirmatively.

McNulty handily won the SPI mayoral runoff election on Saturday.

Chairman Parker’s Perspective

One of the Valley leaders who wants to see a second causeway at or near the top of the new MPO’s list of regional projects is Frank Parker, Jr., chairman of Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority.

Parker was in attendance in Austin when Gov. Greg Abbott signed the documents to set up the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board. He was also at the very first meeting of the new MPO in Weslaco the week before last. Cameron County RMA will have a seat on the MPO and Parker has been designated as its representative.

Frank Parker, Jr.

We have been looking forward to this for a couple of years. We have long needed a regional approach. I have businesses in both counties. I have always been a regional person,” Parker said, immediately after the first RGVMPO meeting had ended

“I am glad we are working together more and maybe it will bring some big economic development projects to our region, such as, businesses or car factories. If we get the airports in here maybe we can start designations a regional air freight airport. Let’s get going.”

Parker said his understanding is that the RGVMPO will have up to 16 percent of the 80 percent of discretionary transportation dollars that TXDOT makes available for the largest MPOs in the state. Before the merger of the Valley’s three legacy MPOs, the region was stuck in the pool of MPOs that had only 20 percent of the discretionary transportation dollars to work with.

“We can get up to 16 percent of the 80 percent but that is going to be dependent on us having our projects ready to go. If we do not have them engineered and ready to go, the money is going to go to Dallas or Houston. It is going to be millions and millions of dollars,” Parker said.

Pete Sepulveda, Jr., was also at the first RGVMPO meeting. Sepulveda is executive director of Cameron County RMA.

“Under a new MPO we could get close to a billion (dollars) over a ten year period from the UTP,” Sepulveda said.

UTP stands for the Unified Transportation Plan. TxDOT could decide how many additional dollars will be allocated to the UTP this summer.

“Because of the additional dollars, I am already pushing for the Outer Parkway and the Second Causeway. These project will be a pretty big chunk of that (billion dollars),” Parker said.

“We want to make it a super regional project or something so it gets funded separately from the regular budget. Of course, I am selfish, I have a condo there (on SPI) but a lot of people in McAllen do also. And we want to make it non-tolled. I look forward to serving on this board.”

Chairman Deanda’s Perspective

S. David Deanda, Jr., chairman of Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority was also at the first meeting of RGVMPO.

“We are so excited (about the creation of the new MPO). We think it will be a big benefit to the Valley,” Deanda said. “We have worked super hard on this project for the last two years at the direction of the governor and we have really made progress in building one united Rio Grande Valley MPO. I am excited about the opportunities for all of us.”

Asked how much more funding he thought the new MPO could draw down, Deanda said: “There is going to be a significant amount of funding. I cannot give you the amount yet. We should be able to access part of the top 80 percent of discretionary dollars. The top five MPOs get 80 percent of the distribution and the remainder get 20 percent. You should see a significant influx of dollars to the Rio Grande Valley.”

Deanda added: “This is historic. This is showing the Valley is becoming united and doing the right things for the people of the Rio Grande Valley and I am just excited to be a part of it.”

Steve Taylor

Patrick McNulty defeated Darla Jones yesterday in the runoff election to fill former Mayor Dennis Stahl’s unexpired term.

McNulty, a real estate broker and construction company owner, received 488 votes to Jones’ 388.

“I am honored to be elected mayor of the city with the best beach in Texas,” McNulty said.

“I am looking forward to working with this council to make South Padre Island the best it can be.”

McNulty said the election had “many great discussions regarding the future of South Padre” and that Jones “ran a good campaign.”

“I’m completely proud of the campaign that I ran and I wouldn’t change a thing I did,” Jones said.

“I wish Patrick McNulty the best.”

McNulty said he is “very proud of his supporters.”

“They have all worked countless hours over the past four months,” he said.

“This has been an intense election and they all deserve a huge thank you.”

In the special election held May 4, McNulty received 285 votes and former Island assistant city manager Jones drew 417.

Business owner Clayton Brashear received 244 votes and fell short of the runoff.

The runoff election was ordered because none of the candidates received 50 percent of the vote.

Canvassing of the election results will be conducted July 10 at 3 p.m. during a special called City Council meeting at City Hall, 4601 Padre Blvd., according to South Padre Island Public Information Officer Nikki Soto.

Alana Hernandez