EDINBURG, RGV – Mere moments after Pete Sepulveda was appointed interim Cameron County Judge, the first thing Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said he suggested was a merging of the Rio Grande Valley’s three Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

It was their first discourse as leaders of their respective counties, and Garcia wanted to convey his thoughts on the state of the three MPOs. One is based in Brownsville, one in Harlingen and one in Weslaco.

“To have three MPOs in the Valley is not efficient. There is a lot of money left on the table as a result,” Garcia told the Rio Grande Guardian.

The message rang true with Sepulveda, who upon being selected as interim Cameron County Judge on March 5, pledged greater cooperation among Valley counties.

Sepulveda said his priorities would include a merger between the three MPOs, placing an emphasis on developing the Port of Brownsville, and rekindling high-level talks for a veterans’ hospital in the region.

“Judge Sepulveda comes in with a wealth of experience, as well as in his position as the county manager and RMA director, he understands the need to think and act on a regional basis,” Garcia said after being asked about Sepulveda’s priorities. “I’m looking forward to working with him because I believe he has that frame of mind to be thinking regionally. More than that, he understands the impact that it will have on our area.”

Administering federal funds, MPOs work with local communities and TxDOT to plan for future transportation needs. Under federal law, every metropolitan area with a population of 50,000 must have a designated MPO.

Merging the Valley’s three MPOs would enable the region to step up to the plate with Texas’ largest cities like Austin, San Antonio and Houston, Sepulveda said. The level of funding for projects is much higher when the state is approached by a singular entity, he said.

It’s the same with issues across the board including regional health and utilities, he said.

“Merging the three Metropolitan Planning Organizations into one, if you do that then your population increases, and all of a sudden you’re at the table with Austin, San Antonio and Houston, which is what you want to do because once you get to that level, then the level of funding you receive is much higher than what we receive as three individual MPOs,” Sepulveda said in a previous interview with the Rio Grande Guardian. “Things like that need to be addressed, but the same thing can be said about regional health issues we might have, utility issues we might have with water, sewer, electrical.”

Sepulveda said working together is not a new concept for the Valley’s four counties. Collaboration dates back to the early 1990s, when the counties came together to build a regional expressway spanning the entire Valley, he said.

Currently, Sepulveda says Cameron County will also be working with Hidalgo to complete FM 1925, otherwise known as Monte Christo Road in Edinburg, which is slated to be expanded in order to provide a vital east-west corridor in the northern part of the Valley. The highway could connect both counties to I-69 East, and provide quicker access to the northern part of South Padre Island.

“The good thing is, Judge Sepulveda is willing to visit and talk and he has an open mind; so do we,” Garcia said. “Hopefully, that will bring some results.”