After 20 years ‘on the books,’ work on FM 106 nears end

May 21, 2018 GMT

RIO HONDO — A long time coming and behind schedule to boot, the FM 106 project is within sight of completion.

The project involves resurfacing and widening the stretch of General Brant Road, or FM 106, that runs from FM 1847 east of Rio Hondo, and Buena Vista Boulevard from General Brant Road to FM 510.

Buena Vista provides access to the Port Isabel-Cameron County Airport and to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge at the intersection of Buena Vista and General Brant.

Work is more or less complete everywhere but the roughly 1.5 miles between FM 510 and the Port Isabel Detention Center, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

The $15.5 million project entailed widening the roads from 20 to 44 feet and adding eight wildlife passages beneath the roadway, primarily to keep ocelots from getting run over. Several of the endangered cats have been killed in the area by vehicles in recent years.

Federal money through TxDOT paid for design, engineering and construction on the project, while the county footed the bill for right-of-way acquisition. The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority kicked in $400,000 for environmental studies.

David A. Garcia, county administrator, said the improved roads are a pleasure to drive now — much different than before improvements.

“It was like driving through a maze, trying to avoid those big holes,” he said. “The county spent a lot of money patching it up here and there and everywhere.”

Garcia said the FM 106 project was “on the books” for nearly 20 years before finally commencing. Work got underway in fall 2015 and is more than one year behind schedule, though TxDOT said the final segment of Buena Vista should be finished in September. Garcia called the improved road “top notch.”

Connection to the bay

“I drove it (Thursday), and it’s a great project that is providing connectivity to the Laguna Madre area, Bayview, Laguna Vista, the INS facility there and the refuge there as well,” he said. “All that area that is along that corridor is not yet developed. Who knows what’s going to happen there? It’s a very nice road that’s going to give people an opportunity to move more efficiently through there.”

Work will begin soon on Buena Vista and Bayside Drive inside the refuge, refuge manager Boyd Blihovde said. That project likewise has suffered delays, though bids finally were accepted May 11 and a contractor should be named soon, he said.

“The timeline is tentative, though there’s supposed to be a preconstruction meeting on June 5 or 6, and then construction is supposed to start on the ground no later than June 15,” Blihovde said.

The Federal Highway Administration is the lead agency on the project. The Buena Vista portion is designated “alternate,” meaning if FHA has insufficient funds to complete it now the work will be rescheduled for later, he said. Bayside Drive will be closed for seven months during construction, though the visitor center will be accessible, Blihovde said.

To help protect ocelots within refuge boundaries, an “aggressive number of speed bumps” will be installed, he said.

“That’s one of the biggest problems, is drivers driving too fast,” Blihovde said.

After years of refuge visitors having to put up with wretched road conditions, the FM 106 improvements are a welcome relief, he said.

“If you haven’t driven it, you ought to check it out,” Blihovde said. “It is a smooth road. The conditions are the best on it compared to anywhere else in the Valley, even compared to the interstate.”