WESLACO, RGV – City leaders across Hidalgo County want Governor Greg Abbott to dissolve the three current metropolitan planning organizations in the Rio Grande Valley and create a single MPO for the region.
On Thursday evening, at a meeting in Weslaco, Hidalgo County MPO voted unanimously in favor of a resolution that asks Gov. Abbott to do exactly this.
The three MPOs in the Valley are Hidalgo County Metropolitan Organization, Brownsville Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Harlingen & San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization. Between them, the entities handle billions of dollars of federal and state transportation dollars.
In the past, Hidalgo County MPO board members, such as Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, have expressed support for a single MPO for the Valley. They have argued that it would mean a lot more transportation dollars for the region. Brownsville MPO board members have been less enthusiastic. Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez has voiced concern over the amount of control Brownsville would have over transportation funding if a Valley-wide MPO existed.
After Thursday evening’s meeting, Andrew Canon, executive director of Hidalgo County MPO, gave an exclusive interview to the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.
“Tonight, my board took action on and approved a resolution asking the Governor to re-designate the Hidalgo County MPO, in cooperation with the two MPOs in Cameron County, as the regional Rio Grande Valley MPO. No more, ‘we like it’, no more, ‘we want to study it.’ The board took definitive action tonight to say we support the idea of a regional MPO, we are going to ask the Governor for it,” Canon said, in a telephone interview.
“Now we leave it to our partners and friends in Cameron County to continue to work with us on whatever details need to be finalized and for them to reach out to the Governor and ask for the same re-designation.”
Canon said the action of the board shows there are no ifs and buts about where Hidalgo County stands on regional cooperation.
“The mood was very upbeat. It was followed up with a round of applause for the vote being completed. I think the board members were very happy to get to this point. They want to move forward.”
He also said there is no question that the board’s decision reflects sentiment in the county.
“When you have re-designation, the federal regulations require you to have a 75 percent population threshold. So, in our case, the elected officials have to represent 75 percent of the population in the county. It was unanimous. We were well above the 75 percent percentile, even with the cities that did not attend tonight’s meeting.”
He added that 75 percent threshold also applies in Cameron County.
Canon said his office will now send the resolution to the Texas Department of Transportation. “They will, I am sure, be sending it to the Governor’s office.”
Asked why a single MPO was worth pursuing, Canon said that was easy to answer… money.
“We would be allocated more money, and have more of a regional aspect when it comes to the transportation planning that we do. There is no question it would mean more money. I do not want to get into numbers but we have a pretty good idea. We have seen some things from TxDOT that have definitely shown us that there is a considerable amount more in our Category 2 funding allocation that would be available if we were in one MPO, as opposed to what the distribution is for three separate MPOs.”
Canon said Hidalgo County MPO still has to pass other resolutions related to the creation of a single MPO.
“We will be adding some language that is contingent upon Category 2 funding being available for all system projects. And we have already been assured by TxDOT that that is the case. We want to put it in a resolution to make sure it is binding,” Canon said.
“And, there will be a second resolution on what the voting structure should be. We need to give Cameron County the opportunity to look at that and see if they buy off on the voting structure as well. Then we need to secure the governance, in effect the bylaws, and in those bylaws, we have a formula spelled out that protects the funding levels that everybody receives. We want to make sure no one receives less money than they do at present.”
Asked what message the unanimous vote sends, Canon said: “I think it shows the commitment of Hidalgo County. We are putting our best foot forward to say we are supportive of this, we want you (Cameron County) to be as well. Mayor San Juanita Sanchez of San Juan, our board chair, will be reaching out the two MPOs in Cameron County to see if there is anything we can do to help with the process.”
Asked if the Legislature has get involved, Canon said: “No. The federal regulations say the Governor has the authority to do this.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows the Pharr interchange that connects I-2 with I-69 Central. Photo courtesy of TxDOT.