WESLACO, RGV – There was consensus at the first ever State of the Valley address that the region’s three metropolitan planning organizations should merge.
The event featured the views and analysis of Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, Willacy County Judge Aurelio Guerra, and Hidalgo County Economic Development Director Bobby Villarreal, who was standing in for Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia.
The event was hosted by the Society of Marketing Professional Services and held at Knapp Conference Center in Weslaco. Questions were posed by Sergio Contreras, president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.
“I think for the long term we are going to be shooting ourselves in the foot if don’t develop and implement and approve a regional MPO,” said Treviño.
Guerra agreed. “We are prepared to join an MPO. Currently we are not part of an MPO. My hope is that by now we would have a single MPO to where Willacy is prepared to join. I think that is the way to go,” he said.
The Valley currently has three metropolitan planning organizations – Hidalgo County MPO, Harlingen-San Benito MPO, and Brownsville MPO. Of these, only the Hidalgo County MPO has said a definite “yes” to a merger.
Villarreal referenced the need to merge the three MPOs a number of times during Monday’s luncheon event. He said Judge Garcia had asked him to mention it as many times as possible.
“The MPO merger would allow us to become one of the five largest metropolitan areas in the state. That gives us access to various pockets of money from TxDOT. That is a huge deal because Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio pretty much take the lion’s share of that,” Villarreal said.
“If we were able to be at that table and say, you know what, we need more money for bridges and international commerce, we would get more money for that. I think TxDOT figured out that, just based on the formulas right now, we would stand to gain at least $11 million more per year in transportation funding. I think the Judge (Garcia) is advocating we would love to do that. We want to do it (merge) in such a way we don’t hurt each other.”
In his remarks, Treviño noted that the Harlingen-San Benito and Brownsville MPOs are “not quite on board yet” with the idea of a united MPO.
“The mayors of Brownsville and Harlingen have been asking TxDOT, show us how we are going to make more money. Prior TxDOT directors had not been forthcoming with regards to those numbers. The new director, Pete Alvarez, has provided some of that information, so, Bobby (Villarreal) alluded to it earlier, that, at a bare minimum, with the regional MPO we would be looking at an additional $11 million and that does not even address the discretionary funds,” Treviño said.
“If the rest of the state, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and surrounding areas, San Antonio and Austin, and El Paso, all of those urban areas can get together, for crying out loud, why can’t the Valley get together?” So, I am very much in favor of it.”
Treviño said it is important to make sure a united MPO is a win-win proposition for all concerned. He said he is confident that can happen.
“Everybody stands to benefit if we all work together. So, I am hopeful we will have some positive news in the very, very, near future. I can tell you I am working hard behind the scenes with the elected leaders in Cameron County, and Hidalgo, to make sure that it can happen. I would live to see Willacy County and Starr County be part of that regional MPO down the road. I think it is long overdue and we all stand to benefit from it. That is my position on it.”
Vera did not speak specifically about the MPO issue but he did discuss a top transportation project in Starr County.
“We currently have a proposal for a relief route around Roma and Rio Grande City. Right of way is being acquired as we speak, and environmental (studies are being done). That is going to help relieve some of the congestion we have,” Vera said.