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AUSTIN, Texas – Two transportation leaders from South Texas have testified at the state Capitol on a bill to establish a regional transit authority for the Rio Grande Valley.

Although Andrew Canon, transportation director of Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Tom Logan, director of Valley Metro testified “neutral” on House Bill 71, it was clear from their remarks that they strongly supported the legislation.

Canon pointed out he could testify for or against HB 71 because his 22-member board of directors, made up of elected officials in Hidalgo County, had not taken a view on the bill. 

HB 71 is authored by state Rep. Armando ‘Mando’ Martinez of Weslaco. Martinez is a member of the House Committee on Transportation, which heard his bill. The committee is chaired by state Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg.

Laying out his bill, Martinez said: “House Bill 71 authorizes the creation of a regional transit authority in the Rio Grande Valley counties of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy.”

State Rep. Armando Martinez

Martinez said the goal of the RTA is to “better coordinate, develop and maintain all types of mass transit, bus and rail, and to plan and develop passenger light rail in the Rio Grande Valley.”

However, Martinez said the bill is just a planning shell. “The elected officials and transit experts will decide how it runs.”

The bill, Martinez said, would allow municipal bus providers such as those operating in Brownsville, McAllen and South Padre Island, to still operate their lines.

Martinez pointed out that Valley Metro, which is administered by the LRGVDC, has partnered with UT-Rio Grande Valley. “Those lines will continue to operate in the same way they currently do,” Martinez said.

Martinez said a frequent question comes up: who runs the RTA. “It would be the executive committee of the LRGVDC, which is the local council of government, made up of elected officials from all three counties,” he said.

Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Corpus, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Laredo and Denton all have regional transit authorities, Martinez said. “Therefore, this is just following the same approach. It is modeled after DART, which has been very, very, successful,” Martinez said, referring to Dallas’ public transit authority.

Here is the testimony of the two South Texas transportation leaders, Canon and Logan, to speak on HB 71:

Andrew Canon’s testimony:

Andrew Canon, transportation director of Hidalgo County MPO, testifies on House Bill 71 at a Texas House Committee on Transportation hearing.

“I am here to convey the importance of supporting legislation to bring in services, projects, and initiatives which benefit the Rio Grande Valley. The Rio Grande Valley consists of Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties and it has a dynamic growth in the global market place. 

“Located in the southmost tip of Texas, with a population of 1.5 million Texans. Neighboring us along the Rio Grande River are another three million Mexican national citizens in the state of Tamaulipas. All having a significant impact upon the aging infrastructure and public transportation system. 

Andrew Canon

“According to the Economic Snapshot of the Rio Grande Valley publication, from 2012 to 2017 the population experienced a 5.2 percent population growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation statistics, in 2017, the cities of Pharr and Brownsville have experienced nearly five million pedestrians and an additional 9.3 million personal vehicles crossing their bridges along our border. Between fiscal years 2008 and 2018 respectively, Valley Metro’s ridership increased from 96,000 riders to 690,000 passenger trips.

“In relation to the proposed bill, 71, a regional transit authority would allow present public transport providers and partners to concentrate on eliminating gaps and duplicating services. This, for example, would allow for an increase in capacity and improving the mobility for seniors and people with disabilities. An RTA would also provide greater options in connecting people to entertainment, sports, education and other venues throughout the region. 

“With growing the capacity and coordination of current public transportation service providers, an RTA would also allow for greater opportunity in leveraging municipal and regional dollars. These leveraged funds would have an immediate and longterm impact in maximizing limited funds to provide opportunities to expand hours of service, increased trip frequency, reduced wait times and the need for transfers along major corridors. These mentioned benefits, they all provide greater return on the investment of a dollar from a region with limited financial options. 

“On a personal note, I am also the beneficiary of public transportation. My mother, a single parent, rode public transit system in Houston to the Houston Chronicle on a daily basis where she worked as a book-keeper. As a single parent, public transportation provided the only means by which she was able to provide for our family. It provided trips to the grocery store, to school, and many of our trips for recreation to the museums or the Houston zoo. Public transportation had a direct, positive, impact on my life and although we are in an age where many riders use public transportation out of choice, the need is still present for many in our communities. 

“Any opportunity allowing for the maximization of dollars, a greater regional, seamless, connective network with access to more destinations in a community, options to reduce congestion, and negative impacts upon our environment should be considered.”

Tom Logan’s testimony:

“Valley Metro is administered by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, our regional council government, serving the counties of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy. 

“We are one of four public transit agencies in the Valley. Valley Metro is the regional provider, working daily and in tandem with the City of South Padre Island, the City of Brownsville, and the City of McAllen to provide riders with a safe, efficient and convenient way to travel throughout the Valley. 

Tom Logan

“In fiscal year 2018, the regional four providers collectively saw 3.5 million riders rely on public transportation. Of note is the tremendous growth of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley student riders utilizing public transportation. This has become a vital resource for students, faculty and staff to travel from home and between the regional campuses. 

“It is important to note that the goal of Valley Metro and our joint partners is for riders who depend on these services to not distinguish the different providers, but rather to see a seamless connectivity system. 

“One current example of regional collaborative efforts of the providers in the region is RGV Metro Express, launched Jan. 1, 209. RGV Metro Express is a limited stop bus service extending across the Valley. It is the fastest and most efficient way by bus to travel across the entire Rio Grande Valley. It is crucial to continue to expand our services, which provide efficient access to destinations and to ensure riders have safe, dependable and equitable public transportation. 

“As you may be aware, the Rio Grande Valley is a fast-growing area with a population exceeding 1.5 million and due to its growth, thousands of worker commuters travel daily between Cameron and Hidalgo counties. 

“House Bill 71, for the creation of a regional transit authority, would allow for further coordination, strategic planning and produce the framework for the continued advancement of public transportation in the Valley. 

“Modeled after other RTAs across the state, a regional transit authority would lay the substantial foundation to create future innovative and impactful projects such as a passenger rail system. A passenger rail system will create a vital regional access resource and serve as one of the main modes of transportation in the Valley. 

“A regional transit authority will extend current public transit serve in areas such as colonias, rural areas and poverty-stricken neighborhoods that currently receive limited or not service at all. This will allow for a transit service getting people to critical areas such as education, health, workforce and centers of economic development and commerce.”

“We sincerely appreciate the efforts of Representative Armando Martinez and the entire transportation committee in considering additional resources of the Valley. As the fifth largest metro area in the state, with tremendous positive impact on the statewide economy any resources or structures to advance public transportation will be of great benefit to the region. 

“Thank you.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows two DART rail cars in Dallas, Texas. State Rep. Armando Martinez said House Bill 71 models a regional transit authority for the Valley on the DART system.

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