EDINBURG, Texas – State Rep. Terry Canales, the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, let rip when he appeared before the most recent Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board meeting.
The Edinburg Democrat blasted the group, accusing them of passing up the opportunity to move on shovel-ready transportation projects in favor of projects that are going to take years to complete. He said the situation is particularly bad in Hidalgo County. As a result, he said, hundreds of millions of dollars are sitting in the bank not being used.
“When they don’t move, we don’t get extra funding,” Canales said.
The chairman of the RGVMPO’s policy board, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., welcomed Canales’ remarks. “I hope everybody’s listening to the emotion that was in the Chairman’s voice and his frustration,” Treviño said.
The RGVMPO is the conduit for all the federal and state transportation dollars that flow to the Rio Grande Valley.
There were no reporters present at the MPO meeting, which took place Dec. 14, 2022. However, a partial recording of Canales’ remarks is available on the group’s Facebook page. Here is an audio recording featuring the remarks of Canales and Treviño:
Canales’ remarks were resurrected by RGVMPO Executive Director Andrew Canon at last week’s McAllen Economic Development Corporation board meeting. In his monthly report to the directors of MEDC, Canon said the RGVMPO had received $400 million in Category Seven funding.
Canon said: “Things are looking up. We are receiving more funds to the Valley since we did the merger. It’s not as much as some would like but it is more than we have gotten previously. The task that we have now… last month we had Chairman Canales come and speak at the policy board. It is (all about) letting projects, getting projects out the door. We have lots of projects that are sitting on the shelves and lots of projects that need right of way acquisition, a lot of projects that need utility adjustments and so forth and so on. The task that we have at hand is we’ve asked for more but we have to start spending the day lights out of it. It is a little hard to go up to our state representatives and senators and say ‘woe is me, I need more money,’ when we’ve got a lot of money in the bank that we haven’t spent. So, we’re shifting gears and starting to focus on that more, to start trying to get more projects out the door for our partners and with TxDOT. So, hopefully we’ll see an increase on the number of projects letting over the next year or so.”
Transcript of Chairman Canales’ remarks
Editor’s Note: The first minute or so of Chairman Canales’ remarks to the RGVMPO were not audible on the Facebook recording due to a technical glitch. Here is a transcript of what is audible:
“So when they don’t move, we don’t get extra funding. And so, as I began to make phone calls, and try to determine from Zapata to Santa Rosa what was going on, there’s a disconnect. There’s a disconnect between the agency, there’s a disconnect between our communities, and there’s a disconnect between this organization. Now this organization has purview over all of it. And my organization, the state legislature and the committee which I preside over, has purview over TxDOT and their $10 billion annual budget.
“So what I would ask you today are a couple of things. One, I’ve noted throughout the history of Hidalgo County, we have a problem of prioritizing projects that aren’t shovel-ready. You have projects in the TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) that are ready to go. Yet we pick projects that are ten years out, and do ten years worth of engineering plans and consultants and all sorts of stuff instead of attacking the ones that are ready to go. And I won’t say we always do the ones that are ready to go, but those should be the priority. Because if you don’t spend it, you don’t get more. So that would be my first request.
“My second request is that you will join me in requesting from the agency maybe monthly reports of not only the projects that are stalled, but the projects that have been funded, because this organization, although it prioritizes, doesn’t do its job when it means following up. And so following up and I say what does that mean? Well, this organization has the authority to reallocate funds. And so if you have the authority to reallocate funds, you should be looking at which funds need to be reallocated. When a project is not moving, when a project has been stalled, and I don’t know if we have that procedure. So I would respectfully ask the MPO to come up with a formula and a way to monitor projects, a way to hold those leaders accountable and/or hold their hand when they don’t know how to get it done. Some of these construction projects are complex, and they’re a little bit over sometimes my pay grade and your pay grade. And that’s what Pete’s here for. But we all need to be communicating.
“And the one thing that I noticed between the $300 million that are funded, and the reason I find that so aggravating is because I’ve spent an entire session fighting for my district for $10 million. And when you’ve got 300 (million dollars) that is sitting here stalled, and when I’ve called the local leaders, some of them don’t know anything about it. Some of them said yes, we did those things that TxDOT says we didn’t do. And the one thing I’m not going to get into is placing blame or pointing fingers. We’ve got plenty of time to do that. What we don’t have time to do is sit and wait any longer to un-stall these projects. And if they are not un-stall-able, they need to be reallocated.
“The Rio Grande Valley is growing at an exponential rate and we can not afford to have transportation dollars not moving. The reality is we have to fight twice as hard, twice as long and twice as angrily to get funded. And the fact that we’ve got that amount of money is insane. The fact that those projects are not burning through this county right now, and through Cameron County and through Zapata, and all these areas, it should be insulting to the public, it should be insulting to you, it should be insulting to Pete and TxDOT. We should all be angry. And so instead of getting angry, let’s get it done.
“And so I would also ask you, or tell you I recently had the privilege because of legislative privilege to see an internal TxDOT document and it showed that the State of Texas has approximately, and I’m going to round it, about $1.2 billion of advanced funded projects. Those are shovel-ready projects. And one of the numbers that stood out to me was Bexar County. They have half of it. Almost $600 million. Half a billion dollars. And you know how much our district has? Zero, goose egg, none of them. That should be concerning to you. So a county that has two million people, as opposed to our one million people has half of all the allocations of advanced seven shovel-ready projects, and we’ve got none. And that goes back to what I’m asking you to do. When you’re prioritizing projects, let’s get the ones we know we can get done. And that doesn’t mean all of them. Sometimes we have to plan for these big ones and they’re going to take time. But the prioritization should be on the ones we need to get done now because the more we spend, Pete will tell you, the more we get. But it’s impossible for legislators like me to go to Austin and ask for more transportation funding for this region and this organization and what we’re doing when we can’t spend what we have. Thank you.”
Editor’s Note: The “Pete” Chairman Canales refers to is Pedro ‘Pete’ Alvarez, Pharr district engineer for TxDOT.
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