EDINBURG, RGV – Valley Metro has thrown its weight behind legislation from state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez that would create a regional transit authority for Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy counties.
House Bill 1986 has passed the House and is set to be heard by the Senate Committee on Transportation on Wednesday.
Under Martinez’s legislation, voters in the three counties would approve creation of the RTA at an election and the transit authority would be administered by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, the official Council of Government for Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties.
The new regional transit authority would be able to issue bonds and collect fares and other charges. Language in HB 1986 refers to international bridges imposing a fee for use by the authority. It mentions $1 for passenger vehicles; $2 for commercial motor vehicles; and 25 cents for pedestrians.
“We think a regional transit authority would be great for the Valley,” said Tom Logan, executive director of Valley Metro. “It will help put in place the bigger service we need in this area. We would definitely see the benefit from the service plan it is going to call for. The service plan will make us work together and start planning for the transportation services we will need in the years to come.”
Logan was interviewed at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new transit terminal in Edinburg. During remarks at the ceremony, Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia said he would like to see the transit terminal become even more multi-modal in nature, with the addition of a light rail service. A railroad track runs alongside the site of transit terminal. The terminal is being built between Edinburg City Hall and UT-Rio Grande Valley.
Logan said he supports light rail, which Rep. Martinez envisions the regional transit authority overseeing, in the years to come. “A feasibility study completed in 2012/13 called for rail service. It was here in the 1920s. We want history to repeat itself,” Logan said.
Asked about the possibility of light rail, Mayor Garcia said: “If we all hold hands together it is a no-brainer. We have got a track that runs all the way from Brownsville to McAllen and then our spur comes in from McAllen. It can serve all the cities in between. It is in place, all we have to do is work towards it.”
Rep. Martinez issued a news release to coincide with HB 1986 passing the House. The news release said the legislation “sets the foundation to plan for passenger rail.”
The news release pointed out that, currently, the Valley does not have a regional entity that can provide a “comprehensive effort in the development and sustainability of regional public transit services in the area.” It states that RTAs “have been formed in other areas of the state and have proven essential in providing efficient public transit services, especially for rail transit.”
Rep. Martinez said: “With the creation of a regional transit authority, our communities can truly begin to plan for the future of mass transit in the Rio Grande Valley. HB 1986 provides an efficient vehicle for the Valley to formally collaborate to provide transit services of all types to the public. This addresses road congestion, provides a vital service to students and lower income residents, and brings with it significant economic development.”
The news release pointed out that Martinez’s bill has been under review and revision for multiple sessions, and that it has been negotiated extensively with stakeholders “to ensure that this is a solution that suits all involved.” It said no municipal or regional bus provider voiced opposition to the bill and many of their recommendations have been incorporated into the language.
“A solid foundation has already been laid for expanded public transit services by the current bus providers in the Rio Grande Valley. The cities of Brownsville, McAllen, and South Padre Island each provide municipal bus service while Valley Metro, operated by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, is the single regional bus provider. Although the providers have worked together loosely in the past to provide partial regional services such as Metro Connect, a regional transit authority is necessary for large scale projects such as rail,” Martinez’s news release stated.
The news release stressed that the RTA would be accountable and transparent. “One of the most important aspects of the bill is the involvement of the public in the RTA. Under HB 1986, voters in each county must approve of the creation of the RTA at an election.” It confirmed that the LRGVDC would be the executive committee of the RTA. “The COG is comprised of elected officials from every community in the Rio Grande Valley. By placing the COG in charge of the RTA, it places the actions and direction of the RTA directly under oversight of voters. It also ensures that every community has a voice in the RTA.”
Edinburg Transit Terminal
Valley Metro’s Logan did not speak at the groundbreaking ceremony for the transit terminal, but did express his strong support in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian. He gave a shout out to the City of Edinburg, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and UT-Rio Grande Valley for their help with the project.
“I commend Edinburg. McAllen has a transit terminal, Brownsville has a transit terminal, and South Padre Island is working on one. Others are being planned across the Valley,” Logan said.
Logan said he concurred with comments made by LRGVDC Executive Director Ron Garza at the groundbreaking ceremony that students have made public transportation cool again. “Over 40 percent of Valley Metro’s riders are students. They tell us they want more services. We want to provide the services they are demanding. We want to be there for them. They are our future leaders,” Logan said.
In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Mayor Garcia said the transit terminal is just the latest good news coming out of fast-growing Edinburg.
“We are destination city. It only makes sense to have a multi-modal transit terminal. We are the center of higher education and county government. Public transportation is our future. We should have paid better attention throughout the years. This is the way it works in Europe. As we grow and our volume increases, that is what it has to be,” Garcia said.
Garcia pointed out that the transit terminal will not just be a place where passengers can get on or off a bus. He said there will be retail space, an incubator to encourage budding restauranteurs, and that Edinburg EDC would move its headquarters to the facility.
“The old bus stations would gradually deteriorate, they would be centers for not very nice hanging around. We will have the EDC, retail, a business incubator, inside the terminal. It will be a team effort to keep it a very nice facility and make it a hub to get in and out of as quick as you can.”
Asked about Garza’s comments that young people are making public transportation cool again, Garcia said: “Students have not only discovered public transportation, they have discovered the bicycle and walking. We have this pedestrian corridor right through here, and the good news is it is getting used. I think it is the future of our area.”
Asked if he would like to make any other comments, Mayor Garcia said: “I would just like to invite all the people of our grand region to come visit Edinburg. It is a pleasant experience for you. We are here to serve.”
Edinburg Council Member Richard Molina was his city’s representative on the COG when the transit terminal was being planned.
“We go to these conferences up north and the City of Edinburg is fighting for business with the City of Weslaco or the City of McAllen. This transit terminal is evidence we are taking a regional approach. Working on the Council of Government, Mayor Boswell of Harlingen was instrumental in making this happen, as was Mayor Darling of Edinburg, and Hidalgo County Treasurer Norma Garcia. If they do not vote on it we do not get the funds,” Molina said.
Asked about the financing of the project, Molina said: “We (the COG) added $1,652,955. The Freight Transportation Authority came to our rescue, providing $4,352,455, and the land cost $675,000. The EDC kicked in with $4.5 million. It was a great team effort. People come to the big party and they see the big dance and how everything is going down but it takes countless man hours to see something like this through to fruition.”
Molina said what most excited him about the transit terminal was the help it was going to provide to students trying to get to the UTRGV Edinburg campus.
“I am thinking about a kid down in the San Juan area that needs to get to school to take a class, or a kid out of Donna or Weslaco that are signed up to take classes. How cheap it will be to commute to get here. We are within walking distance of the university campus. City Hall is right next door. Just think of the amount of people this is going to benefit in the years ahead.”
This concept has been a long time coming. We need a UNIFIED transit policy in the RGV. My only recommendation would be that instead of light rail, which requires the use of overhead catenary, we consider using diesel multiple units, which can run in various lengths, depending on demand and time of day [rush hours].
Absolutely NO tax money should be expended for this until Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr Counties sign a legally binding agreement covering how it will be paid for. Now is not the time to worry about equipment, schedules or the routes. Now is the time to see if, for the first time in recorded history four counties can agree on how to do anything let alone doing it without lining the politicians and pockets with kickbacks.
Notice that no one from the lower valley was asked their opinion on the legislation. It’s always about the upper valley and how they will control the money. I am opposed to this. This is a bad idea and foresee a lot of issues when it will come down to money and who would get what and how much. Let each county deal with its own issues and work with other counties when needed.
If we keep wanting to merge everything (MPOs?), then why bother having counties? The bigger county will eat up the smaller county with size and population meaning more power to the upper valley. No thank you…