WESLACO, RGV – The Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board held its first ever meeting on Wednesday.

Convening at the offices of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council in Weslaco, board members discussed bylaws for the new group, the appointment a chairman and vice chairman, and who would serve as interim director.

The board agreed to make Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez chairman while the vice chairmanship went to Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.

“The MPO represent something that our City does daily — we see the impossible and we make it happen,” Mayor Hernandez told the Rio Grande Guardian, after the meeting. “From the onset I saw what some failed to see, I understood that together we could wield more for our community. You don’t make history like this by not taking the chance – I am certain our efforts will provide this region unprecedented advancement.”

During the meeting, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez made a point of privilege remark, explaining that the City of Brownsville should in all probability have one of the top slots on the new MPO. However, he said that as he is departing and the new mayor, Trey Mendez, is not yet up to speed on MPO issues, he would accept his city is not ready to take one of the top two positions.

Metropolitan planning organizations are federally mandated and as such are the conduit through which federal and state transportation funds are distributed locally. Their boards of directors meet to prioritize local transportation projects.

The new RGVMPO has come about through the merger of Hidalgo County MPO, Brownsville MPO, and Harlingen-San Benito MPO. Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed a proclamation setting up the new group. The group will learn how big a budget it will have when the Texas Department of Transportation meets later this summer. The expectation is that it will be much bigger than the sum of the budgets of the three former MPOs.

The directors for the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board will comprise one representative from the following entities: the cities of Brownsville, Harlingen, San Benito, McAllen, Edinburg, Mission and Pharr; the counties of Cameron and Hidalgo; Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority, Valley Metro, and the Texas Department of Transportation.

Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Corporation executive director Ron Garza was appointed interim director of RGVMPO. A nationwide search will be conducted to find a permanent director.

RGVMPO board members agreed that all the staff currently working for Hidalgo County MPO, Brownsville MPO, and Harlingen-San Benito MPO will be retained by the new group.

They also agreed that their formal meetings would be held monthly, usually straight after the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council’s monthly meeting, which is on the last Wednesday of every month. They did this because many of them are also members of the LRGVDC. The venue will be the LRGVDC’s offices in Weslaco.

After discussing various administrative issues, members of the board gave remarks about the new organization.

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell asked that the board congratulate Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez for his many years of public service. He noted that this was Martinez’s first and last meeting as a board member of RGVMPO.

“It has been an interesting journey,” Martinez responded. “If I caused anybody too much heartburn, I apologize, but it was important that all of us kind of us learn how to learn about each other and love each other in a way that is good for the citizens of the entire Rio Grande Valley. They are the ones that count. I think you guys did an outstanding job.”

Judge Treviño, the new vice-chairman, said he was looking forward to working with the new chairman, Mayor Hernandez.

“It is incumbent on each and every one of us to make this work. We got to this point and now let’s make a commitment, we are graduating, we are starting all over again,” Treviño said.

“While we are advocate for our area, whether it be a county or a city, we need to keep in mind and be mindful that we are now the RGVMPO. And the projects in Hidalgo are just as important to me as the projects in Cameron, and vice versa.”

Treviño said that while the first couple of years may be “very interesting and tough,” the future looked bright.

“I am looking forward to helping our chairman, Mayor Hernandez. It is very, very important that every one of us do everything we can and that means compromise when needed, advocate when needed but at that the end of day unite when needed,” Treviño said.

“So, I ask for the good Lord’s blessing on this entity that we can begin our work going forward. I am very, very excited for what this means for the future of the Valley. We are in a great position, I think there are a lot of envious minds of people across the state and across the country that wish they were in our position.”

Chairman Hernandez responded: “Well said.”

San Benito Mayor Ben Gomez said: “We need to take away the local perspective, and start looking at this as a region, and start looking at it from the perspective of creating win-wins for the entire Rio Grande Valley. We want to reverse the brain drain, bring our best and brightest back to the Valley and help us build. The next 20 years are critical so we should leave our egos at the door and make sure we do what is best for the Rio Grande Valley. We need to do what is best for the Valley.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said: “The rest of the state is looking at us and we have a reputation of Friday Night Football and not getting along. This is our chance to show the rest of the state that when we get together we can do great things.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said everyone tells him to do the right thing but they never tell him what that right thing is.

“It depends who you ask what that right thing is. I have a tendency to look at things from a financial perspective. We have one third of the people that live in Hidalgo County are impoverished. People in poverty cost money for the government because we have to take care of them. They are not great contributors. To me, removing poverty is very important. But, how do you do that?”

Cortez said that in his opinion one removes poverty in the Rio Grande Valley by strengthening the income producing assets the region possesses.

“We have international bridges, we have commercial corridors, we have the connection between us and the island. All of those things are very important. So when someone says, what do you think is the best thing to do, I want to build our income producing assets first and then work on the other ones.”

Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem David Torres was a replacement for his city’s mayor, Richard Molina, who could not make the meeting. Torres said: “On behalf of Edinburg, we are just glad to be here at the table. I and glad we have such distinguished leaders in place. I have seen their work. I think you are going to do extremely well working together, looking after the interests of the Rio Grande Valley.”

Mayor Hernandez wrapped up discussion about the new MPO with these remarks:

“Congratulations to the board. You guys did it. They said it could not be done. You literally came together to show everyone, particularly our constituents that you absolutely could get it done. It was a significant journey. To my Cameron County colleagues, I actually learned a lot from you guys. It is not about the name tags, the titles, it is all about bringing the coalition together. Bringing everybody together in a harmonious way, where we all see one vision. Somebody does not have to lose in order for you to get what you want. We all can win. I am proud I had a little input to get this done.”

Under any other business, Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña asked for a moment of silence for fallen Mission police corporal Joey “Speedy” Espericueta. After this was observed, O’Caña noted Mission had won an “All-America City” award. He said the past week had included a super high and a crushing low.