WESLACO, RGV – Local city managers gave their views on whether the Rio Grande Valley’s three Metropolitan Planning Organization’s should merge.
At a luncheon hosted by the Society of Marketing Professional Services-Rio Grande Valley last week, the city managers briefly touched on merging the three Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the Valley and the reasons why some cities are hesitant to join.
Joey Treviño, former executive director of Weslaco Economic Development Corporation, who was in the audience, asked the three panelists how Valley leaders could better work together in the region’s best interests and by way of example cited the MPOs.
A Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) implements the metropolitan transportation planning process and was created by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The policy board of the organization is made up of city officials and approves transportation projects.
MPOs represent all urbanized areas with populations over 50,000, according to the Federal Transit Administration. The Valley has three MPOs: Hidalgo County, Harlingen-San Benito and Brownsville.
McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez described an MPO and how the merge can benefit the Valley. He said the possibility was there for receiving more discretionary funding for transportation projects, just like bigger cities.
“The MPO’s across the state of Texas get funding based on a formula and that formula is based on population and traffic,” Rodriguez said. “So, the more of that you have, the more money you’re going to get, and so the theory behind merging the three MPO’s which is Brownsville MPO, Harlingen-San Benito, and Hidalgo County, is to have one large MPO,” Rodriguez said.
“Think about this, Dallas-Fort Worth, as one, we have three. So, we have got to figure that out. We have to figure it out so that we get to the table with DFW, with Houston, Austin and San Antonio and talk about discretionary fund, that’s where the big money is. That’s why Houston is always in construction.”
Rodriguez said he understands why Brownsville is hesitant to merge because of how they’ve become a major MPO, but even as negotiations become complicated, he believes the region needs to continue to work together and look at the benefits.
“The MPO is a perfect example,” Rodriguez said. “We’re not going to throw anybody under the bus here, but it’s a complicated thing. Brownsville, like Charlie said, it’s one of the major MPOs. They certainly feel like, ‘look, I’ve got what I need right now,’ whether they’re right or wrong, I don’t know, but that’s how they feel.
“It’s a major MPO, they feel that there is a risk to do what the state wants us to do and I don’t blame them, so we have to keep working at it. What we’ve got to do is show the entire region what the benefits are, and if the benefits outweigh by a lot any problems that you’re going to have then its gonna happen.”
Charlie Cabler, the city manager of Brownsville, jokingly said “no comment” when asked on his input on merging the three MPOs. Cabler added that Brownsville has become a large MPO and must consider how other cities feel about the merge. However, he said, Brownsville will continue to negotiate to ensure transportation funding for the Valley.
“As far as Brownsville’s MPO has become a major MPO, so there has to be a comfort level before any decision is made to merge,” Cabler said.
“And out of state, like Mike noted, the mayors of each city sit at the head of the MPOs. They’ve been discussing and trying to find a way to ensure that a comfort level is obtain for each and every city before make decisions about merging and things like that. So we’re still negotiating phases on that, but willing to sit down and identify any and all possibilities to assure that the Valley as a whole gets its fair share of the funding needed to work on infrastructure and things like that.”
Rodriguez argued that when the Valley unites on transportation projects, they could receive more money to improve infrastructure. An example Rodriguez gave was of the Pharr Interchange and how the region received $150 million from the state to fix it, a major benefit to the Valley.
“We’ve got to be able to figure out how we’re going to benefit our region,” Rodriguez said. “There are some projects that are easy to identify. The Pharr Interchange, I mean it’s called the Pharr Interchange for God’s sakes and nobody thinks it’s a city of Pharr project. We all hate it, we all hate going through there. When the MPO said let’s get together and fix that problem, we got $150 million from the state of Texas and that’s what happens when you get enough people around the table with the same message you’re gonna get those kinds of results.”
The city manager of Weslaco, Mike Perez, said it might ultimately come down to the leadership of McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell and Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez on whether to unite the three MPOs.
“I think there’s hesitation on some of the MPOs in Cameron County and (we have to) get through that,” Perez said. “It’s going to be up to the mayors, they’re going to have to sit down, its gonna be probably the leadership of Mayor Darling in McAllen and talking to Mayor Tony [Martinez] near Brownsville and seeing what they can do to get everybody on board.”