Our communities throughout the Rio Grande Valley have recently been energized with remarkable economic growth — hundreds of new jobs, large population growth, new construction projects, prosperous economic development corporations, national rankings of our cities being some of the best places to live, and record numbers of students enrolled in our higher education programs.
This growth is no coincidence. The economic development and progress that surrounds us is very visible and it is attributable to a new university, a first-class medical school slated to open in three months, the STARGATE project, aerospace industry investments, and Space X. And while this great progress is exciting, it is just the beginning of the Valley’s potential.
The Valley is transforming into a beacon of education, research, and technology. We need this same transformation in transportation and infrastructure to complement the rest of our region’s economic boom. We cannot continue to have three small metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) fighting for transportation dollars that are merely the leftovers of the big MPOs.
An incredible opportunity exists with the potential merger of the three MPOs in the Rio Grande Valley — Brownsville, Harlingen-San Benito, and Hidalgo County. We need a funding solution to provide the transportation infrastructure our region needs and our families deserve. Our population is greatly increasing and our infrastructure must be able to support this growth. Revenue is desperately needed to repair roads, provide congestion relief, maintain our highway system, and fund border trade projects. The lack of investment funding could halt our local economies.
A merger of the three MPOs would provide that much-needed solution. A solution that creates a large single MPO that will put us on par with the Big 4 MPOs — Austin, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. A single MPO would provide a mechanism to give us the ability to plan our infrastructure on a large market. This is critical because we must address large and complex regional infrastructure issues and we must do so from a broad region-minded perspective versus a narrow city-minded perspective. With such significant growth in our region, how else would we be able to keep up?
Historically the Rio Grande Valley has not had a seat at the table, whether we are talking about education, healthcare, or transportation. We have fought for statewide dollars that are often the leftovers from the large metropolitan cities. However, we learned something three years ago – something significant and critical to the future of our families in the Valley. By successfully creating the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the first medical school in South Texas, we learned the power and strength of unity. We discovered that we can achieve tremendous successes for all of our individual cities and communities by working together and preserving the mentality that the Rio Grande Valley is one “region.”
The Valley must be competitive in the future. We must be able to compete with other large MPOs statewide to reap the funding benefits. But we need to wise up. The competition is not between Hidalgo and Cameron counties, it is not between one city and another city, and it is not between one MPO and another MPO. It is between the Rio Grande Valley and the rest of the entire state.
With a single MPO, we would be the powerhouse of the south. There would be one entity bringing regional priorities to the Transportation Commission. We would speak with one voice. This is the key element every Big 4 MPO (Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin) has – one voice. We must embrace a regional mindset to create a merger so that opportunities are not lost; but instead, finally be on par with the large MPOs and gain a powerful voice for the infrastructure needs of our South Texas communities.