Hidalgo County, Pharr breaks ground on tunnel for regional hike-and-bike trail

PHARR — When Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Eduardo “Eddie” Cantu stood at the podium Wednesday morning to celebrate the groundbreaking of a pedestrian tunnel under Veterans Boulevard, it was only blocks from where he played as a child.

“What’s weird is that I actually grew up in these ditches catching tadpoles, playing with my brother … (and) I actually broke my jaw a couple of blocks from here in this ditch riding a bicycle,” he said during the ceremony. “It’s going to be great to see something a little safer than what I used to do.”

A crew will install a tunnel under the road connecting a 2.2-mile track starting at South San Antonio Avenue in San Juan to Ridge Road in Pharr. Construction begins when a neighboring school breaks for the holidays and should wrap by mid-January, according to Cantu.

“It’s going to be the safest, longest hike-and-bike trail — without having to cross an intersection — ever in the Valley,” Cantu said. “We’re really proud of that.”

This is the first of three sections that will eventually reach the path on 2nd Street in McAllen, while will eventually connect to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg. The second phase, which will cross Cage Road, will require three pedestrian tunnels. Construction should begin on that mid-2019.

Cantu called the path, which will cost over $10 million and span 7.7 miles, a “regional project,” and stressed how inclusion of all the collaborators made it possible. It’s funded by state and federal funds, with local contributions from McAllen and San Juan. Pharr will relocate existing utilities allowing tunnel installation.

“This represents one beautiful, well-thought-out endeavor from the city of Pharr, San Juan, McAllen and Precinct 2 coming together for your betterment,” said Pharr Mayor Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez. “We want everyone to have the opportunity to be healthy.

“It’s your choice, but if you don’t have the instruments or the path to get there, it’s kind of pointless. … It doesn’t do us any good to have a hike and bike trail if our citizens are at risk.”

He listed through the safety measures of the trail — tunnels, lightings, emergency phones and patrolling authorities.

“When we all have a common goal, which is the betterment of our community, it’s always easy to find a solution,” said Cantu’s chief of staff, Armando Garza Jr.

German Madrazo, McAllen resident who represented Mexico in the 2018 Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier, spoke about the importance community investments encouraging health and wellness.

“‘It’s too warm here. People don’t run,'” he said, recalling those who questioned his decision to open Valley Running Co. eight years ago. “People thought that my dream was to build a running store to sell shoes to runners, but my dream was to take McAllen from the fattest city in the United States to the fittest… .”

When he opened his shop, there were only a handful of annual races in McAllen. Now, there are multiple races every weekend.

“You’d be lucky if you tried to start a fundraiser with a 5K and you don’t have five races on that same day and two the next day,” he said, emphasizing the growth of the running community. “What we’re starting with all these initiatives is that we’re starting to enable and power the dreams of all these Valley residents.”