WESLACO, RGV — Andrew Canon, executive director of the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization, says a single MPO for the region could be up and running by 2017–bringing in more transportation dollars for the Harlingen-San Benito area, as well as other parts of the Valley.
In the Rio Grande Valley, there are three metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs)–Hidalgo County MPO, Harlingen-San Benito MPO and Brownsville MPO. Canon said an MPO is a policy board comprised of local elected officials such as mayors, city commissioners, council persons. The board decides which transportation projects should be prioritized and allocates funding for those projects from state and federal dollars.
“Those individuals … are the decision makers [and] have the daunting task of trying to figure out what projects to move forward with in the next 25 years with the limited transportation funding that comes down to the Valley,” Canon told News Talk 710 KURV Radio.
The Hidalgo County MPO unanimously voted to merge with the two other MPOs–Harlingen-San Benito MPO and Brownsville MPO in hopes of securing additional funding for South Texas transportation projects. Canon said there are two different categories for MPOs–one is for populations of about 200,000 such as Hidalgo County MPO as well as Brownsville MPO and the other category is for those under the 200,000 which is the Harlingen-San Benito MPO.
“There are different pots of money that you have access to by being a larger MPO than a smaller MPO,” Canon told the radio station. “By doing this, we bring everybody underneath that one definition of a larger MPO and therefore hopefully add an influx of cash to the Harlingen-San Benito area would be on the table of discussion that’s not available to them now.”
In order for the three MPOs to become a single, Valley-wide MPO, federal regulations require that elected officials representing 75 percent of the population in the counties to vote in favor of the single MPO. As part of the process, Governor Abbott must also approve the re-designation.
“If all the stars align and this is the will of the elected officials and (they) may think it’s what’s best for their constituents, in 2017 we can see a singular MPO moving forward,” Canon told KURV. “We know that it would be an addition of tens of millions of dollars to the area.”
However, there may be issues that arise with becoming a Valley-wide MPO, such as an unfair allocation of funding. In response, Canon said under Hidalgo County MPO’s proposed bylaws, there is a distribution formula and a guarantee that all cities are brought to the table for discussion. Canon said the new board could be made up of about 41 or 42 entities.
“We do have a distribution formula that would at least distribute those funds and make sure that they stay at a certain point for the two different counties (Hidalgo and Cameron),” Canon said. “The proposal that we have brings everybody to the table – every city that’s engaged now whether you’re Alamo, San Juan, Progreso, McAllen or Brownsville – has a seat at the table to vote for these projects. The proposal is not looking to exclude anybody from that. That’s important because a lot of the smaller cities have regionally significant projects through their areas or they have smaller roadways that are turning larger volumes of traffic that need to be addressed.”