BY HIDALGO COUNTY JUDGE RAMON GARCIA
With construction on the new Hidalgo County Courthouse scheduled to begin on Sept. 4, comes a lot of changes to the current courthouse square.
The first change is that drivers will no longer be able to drive through the courthouse property. Closner Boulevard from Cano Street on the south side of the courthouse square to McIntyre on the north will be closed to through traffic.
Fencing will be placed around the entire construction site and will encompass much of the current courthouse parking lot as well as the street, south lawn, and southwest parking lot, so there will be no southern access to the current courthouse. All told, about 300 public parking spaces in the existing courthouse parking lot will be lost to the construction.
We knew that was coming and that is why the courthouse project management team from Jacobs as well as county staff conducted a thorough, extensive study on the use of our existing parking and determined how to make up for the lost spaces.
The Commissioners Court approved a comprehensive plan that was the result of the study at its meeting last week.
The plan not only encompasses parking, but also includes a convenient and free shuttle service that will take visitors and employees to and from any of the seven parking lots to the courthouse. Currently, parking is on a first-come, first-served basis. The new plan identifies reserved parking for jurors, 30 minute-parking for people doing a quick business at the county clerk’s two busiest departments — official records and vital statistics — and handicap parking at all lots.
The Commissioners Court also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council for Valley Metro to provide a free, convenient shuttle service for the duration of construction, which is expected to take 30 months. Two shuttles that are ADA compliant, modern and air conditioned will make a continuous loop from the parking areas to the courthouse Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. According to Valley Metro, no one should have to wait longer than 10 minutes. County staff will construct covered shelters for the comfort and convenience of those waiting for the shuttle.
On behalf of the Commissioners Court, I commend County Clerk Arturo Guajardo Jr. and his staff for identifying a solution to help ease the foot traffic at the existing courthouse during this construction phase by moving the vital statistics and official records departments to the clerk’s warehouse, which is located in front of the Elections Department Annex, one block north of the courthouse.
According to County Clerk Guajardo, the move should be completed in mid-September. These two departments receive the most foot-traffic in his office and are responsible for processing, cataloging and recording more than 100,000 documents each year. As previously mentioned, there will be 30-minute parking available for people stopping for copies of birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, deeds, liens and property records, for example, at the vital statistics and official records departments. We’ll make sure to let everyone know when the date for the move is finalized. A video detailing the plan is available on the county’s courthouse project website and the county’s YouTube channel.
District Clerk Laura Hinojosa has also worked diligently to ensure a smooth transition for those called to jury duty. All juror summons now include the new parking map and shuttle information. According to Ms. Hinojosa, approximately 700 people report for jury duty each week. The parking lot directly across the courthouse on McIntyre is reserved for jurors, along with an overflow juror lot a little farther north.
Parking is prioritized for jurors, courthouse visitors and county employees. It’s going to take some getting used to, and we appreciate everyone’s cooperation.
There’s a saying that I’ve often seen printed on signs at construction sites on existing facilities, “Pardon our dust.” That message acknowledges that there are certain inconveniences associated with building on a site that is currently in use. It also promises that when the “dust” settles, the new facility will have been worth the temporary inconvenience.
For Hidalgo County residents, the new courthouse will serve us into the next century.
Ramon Garcia is the Hidalgo County judge. He writes for The Monitor’s Board of Contributors.