The Federal Highway Administration has given the Texas Dept. of Transportation a green light to proceed with construction of the West Rail project in Brownsville, an estimated $85-million effort to relocate a Union Pacific Railroad line out of the heart of the city and away from downtown Matamoros, Mexico.

The project is a cooperative effort involving officials in both cities, the state agency, Cameron County and the Mexican government. On the U.S. side, improvements would relocate the existing railway from the U.S. 77-83 rail junction to a switching yard farther west, routing it south to the Rio Grande River just west of Brownsville.

Plans include construction of a new international rail bridge, which will cross over the International Boundary and Water Commission levee and U.S. 281, and building a 5.85-mile single-rail track from the new bridge to U.S. 77-83. Construction cost on the U.S. side is estimated at $35 million, while Mexico’s cost is about $50 million.

Work is anticipated to start this month, but there are still “some pending issues that need to be addressed before the county can award a contract,” says Amy Rodriguez, TxDOT’s district spokeswoman. Cameron County received bids for the project in late July, says Pete Sepulveda Jr., county administrator. He confirmd that construction is set to begin in October, with completion set for March 2012. McCarthy Building Cos., St. Louis, was the low bidder, at $24.67 million.

The project will require 163.67 total acres of additional right-of-way. About 120 acres have been acquired so far, officials say. The project would eliminate 11 at-grade crossings in downtown Brownsville. Several city streets will be extended to maintain local access, but one will be closed.