More than $25 million in state funding will be invested in Cameron County roads, but the projects aren’t only aimed to improve the lives of traveling humans.
Special crossings for ocelots are included in the county’s plans to rebuild FM 106, also known as General Brant Road, from Paredes Line Road to FM 510, a $15.5 million project that will run through Commissioner David A. Garza’s precinct. A second project, also included in Precinct 3, will realign FM 803 between the expressway and State Highway 100, creating a faster route from the Rancho Viejo area to Port Isabel and South Padre Island. Rebuilding General Brant Road has been a goal of Garza’s since he was elected to the commission, he said, explaining that when state maintenance on the road lapsed, the county was ill-equipped to keep it up.
Other factors that made the road a challenging project is its location within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge. “That road was a little bit more complicated,” Garza said. “We had to work with the refuge in making sure we protected the environment, and it was a challenge to bring in the different governmental agencies.” The $15 million wasn’t the problem, Garza said, adding that it was arranging for the mitigation because the county would need to purchase right-of-way from the refuge that had to be replaced at triple the rate through expansion of the refuge elsewhere. What finally gave the project the green light were the cat crossings that will be built beneath the road at locations the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified as highly trafficked areas for ocelots, a predatory cat that is endangered in the United States. Vegetation and fencing will work to funnel the cats toward the crossing, giving them a safe route across the busy and rough road, one that has been a dangerous spot for ocelots and humans alike. “To put it mildly, it was a nightmarish road,” Garza said.
While renovations at General Brant Road will offer a connection to Port Isabel and eventually the second causeway, the FM 803 improvements will provide motorists with another route to State Highway 100, as well, which Garza said will benefit students who commute to Los Fresnos schools. “(FM)803 has been a big safety issue,” Garza said, calling it one of the top roads when it comes to accidents per mile. Allowing more access should attract residential and business investment, he said, which would also improve safety along the road.