AP NEWS

State to widen Spur 54, highway poised to lure business

February 26, 2019

HARLINGEN — A row of old buildings stretch along scattered fields near the city’s new business district, the site of the $17.6 million Harlingen Convention Center.

Behind the road, old houses and patches of mesquite dot sprawling fields.

Now, the state’s $7.2 million project aimed at widening Spur 54 into a six-lane roadway could help transform the area’s rustic rural landscape just west of the Harlingen Heights business district.

The project is expected to boost property values — and lead landowners to sell off to new businesses.

Under the Interstate 69 interchange, Spur 54 connects the highway with Business 83.

For eastbound traffic into Spur 54, the widened, landscaped roadway will serve as a gateway to the business district leading to the convention center, expected to open late next month.

“ We believe that area will develop,” City Manager Dan Serna said yesterday. “It’s going to be a very attractive boulevard-style roadway. It tends to have an impact on values of property.”

Raudel Garza, executive director of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, calls it “curb appeal.”

“ Improving the roadway will help add value to the property. They’ll be more improved accessibility,” Garza said. “Whether it will mean more development will depend on the landowners and whether or not they will sell their property at the market rate to attract businesses.”

Last week, city commissioners approved the agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation to use state funds to landscape the sides of the roadway.

As part of the agreement, the state will plant trees, shrubbery and turf along medians and islands.

In exchange, the city will maintain the landscaped areas, Serna stated.

When will the work begin

In August, the Texas Department of Transportation is expected to launch the project to widen from four to six lanes.

Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez said the project is expected to be completed within 18 months to two years.

“ It’s creating an economic spur for developers and property owners,” Sanchez said. “With increased volumes of traffic and access to adjacent property, the properties will start developing as part of the overall growth.”

How we got here

In the last 10 years, the city’s rural edge has become one of its fastest growing business areas.

In 2011, Bass Pro Shops and Sam’s Club opened. That led restaurants and businesses along with a Residence Inn by Marriott to open in the area known as Harlingen Heights.

Now, the convention center, to be attached to a $25 million, five-story, 149-room Hilton Garden Inn is expected to draw more businesses to the vicinity.

“ We’re already starting to see some of the growth,” Sanchez said. “The retail side is coming along.”

What’s new

So far, a strip mall with five businesses has opened.

Now, a businessman is developing a tract between the convention center and Interstate 69, Sanchez said.

Serna said the construction project will not impact traffic en route to the convention center at Teege and Harlingen Heights streets.

“ There will be additional ways to get on and off,” Serna said, referring to Expressway 69 and its frontage road, Teege Street, Chester Park and Bass Pro Drive. “Spur 54 will be open. There will be traffic-control there.”

For the city, its northern gateway is starting to take shape.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com