WESLACO, Texas – The chances of the Rio Grande Valley getting additional funds for international bridge-related infrastructure projects will be improved once the new Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan is in place.
This is the view of Andrew Canon, executive director of the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization. The RGV MPO is the conduit through which federal and state dollars flow to transportation projects.
“The Border Transportation Master Plan could not be more important. We need it in place,” Canon told the Rio Grande Guardian in an exclusive interview.
“The Texas Transportation Commission will be adopting the plan soon and once they do it is going to allow us to seek out additional federal and state dollars for improvements to some of our bridges. We have to have the Border Transportation Master Plan in place first to be able to go after that funding. So, I am very happy the plan is moving forward.”
Among the “regionally significant” projects the RGV MPO is working on, Canon said, are the East Loop project in Brownsville, the Madero International Bridge project in Mission, and the International Bridge Trade Corridor that will provide a new truck route between the Pharr and Donna international bridges.
The BTMP is a comprehensive, multimodal, binational long-range plan being crafted by the Texas Department of Transportation. The 400-page plan identifies transportation issues, needs, challenges, opportunities, and strategies for moving people and goods efficiently across the Texas-Mexico border, the border regions, and beyond.
TxDOT hosted a series of meetings throughout the border region to gather public input for the BTMP.
Octavio Saenz, public information office for the Texas Department of Transportation’s Pharr District Office said the BTMP “builds on the long-standing coordination and collaboration relationship between Texas and Mexico regarding binational planning, programming, and implementation of policies, programs, and projects to facilitate efficient and safe cross-border movement of people and goods.”
Saenz said the Texas-Mexico border “connects people, culture, industries, and trade between the U.S. and Mexico, and is a key contributor to the local, regional, state, and national economies of both countries.”
He pointed out that trade across the Texas-Mexico border has more than tripled from $111 billion to $451 billion from 1994 to 2019 and it is expected to increase by 234 percent to $1.5 trillion by 2050.
“The BTMP will serve as a blueprint to prepare for the future. Through a collaborative and data-driven process, TxDOT and its binational partners and stakeholders jointly developed the BTMP to identify needs and strategies to address the challenges and opportunities today and in the future for cross-border movement of people and goods along the Texas-Mexico border.”
The report is expected to be finalized in March 2021, Saenz added.
As a member of TxDOT’s Border Trade Advisory Committee, RGVMPO’s Canon was one of the stakeholders that had input into the new BTMP. Another member of the advisory committee is Keith Patridge, president of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.
“Keith and I serve on the Border Trade Advisory Committee. We have both been a part of that for some time. We have worked diligent on there. So, we have worked closely with Caroline Mays and her staff over the last couple of years in preparation, review, comment, continued review, comment, to get to the point where we are now with the Border Transportation Master Plan,” said Canon, at a recent board meeting of the McAllen EDC.
Created by the Legislature in 2001, the Border Trade Advisory Committee provides a forum for the exchange of communications between the Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT, the governor and committee members representing border trade interests.
The BTAC recommendations are included in border reports that are presented to the presiding officers of the State House and State Senate. Its goals are to:
- Ensure the participation of port-of-entry stakeholders in TxDOT’s Transportation Processes.
- Ensure that the Texas-Mexico Border transportation needs are addressed in TxDOT’s transportation planning.
- Provide input into the development of the Border Strategic Transportation Initiatives Plan.
- Contribute to the development of a comprehensive Texas Border Transportation Master Plan.
- Advise TxDOT on trade issues, priorities and projects and funding needs for freight improvements to support the state’s economic vitality and global competitiveness.
“We also have an RGV freight subcommittee that I was fortunate enough to chair for the last two years. We are going to continue on with that. TTI is going to help us with the transition because we want to maintain that as a subcommittee for the new RGV MPO.”
TTI stands for the Texas Transportation Institute.
“We have so many brilliant and informed individuals on the freight subcommittee from bridge owners to cities, CBP, so we just want to keep them engaged and use their knowledge and their resources to as we move forward as a planning agency.”
CBP stands for Customs and Border Protection.
Starr County and the RGV MPO
At an RGV MPO Transportation Policy Board meeting this week, Canon gave an update on plans to bring Starr County into the organization.
“I know that Starr County and Rio Grande City each passed resolutions supporting the idea of merging into the RGV MPO. It is moving forward in a very positive light, the idea of bringing them in for a seamless transportation system all the way from Starr County to Brownsville. So we are very excited about the possibility,” Canon told the board.
At the recent McAllen EDC board meeting, RGV MPO’s Canon said having Starr County in the group would provide “a seamless planning process for us going west.”
Canon pointed out that there are some important long range projects that RGV MPO supports that will impact Starr County. “We have 755 up north, which would curve down and have a direct connection to Rio Grande City. That is a long range plan. We have the continued expansion of Interstate 2. And, of course, the continued expansion of the bridges and commerce that we have coming. It is good to have that conversation and it seems to be moving in a positive direction.”
Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña also said the discussions were going well.
“It has been very pleasing to work with the Starr County staff. I know Mr. Alvarez has been working with us also. Mayor Hernandez also,” Mayor O’Caña said, at the RGV MPO meeting.
O’Caña was referring to Pete Saenz, district engineer for TxDOT’s Pharr District, and Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, chairman of the RGV MPO.
“I am very confident that they (Starr County) will come on board. It is going to add a new voice to the Rio Grande Valley. And definitely a bigger voice, especially when we go to Austin or Washington, D.C., or any other place, so that when we talk about the Rio Grande Valley we are a true regionalized area.”
The RGV MPO is also looking into creating a new office in Cameron County and moving its office in Hidalgo County.
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