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Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez is president of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.

WESLACO, RGV – Valley Metro has unveiled its legislative agenda for the 85th Legislature and it hopes to secure an additional $5 million in state funds. These funds will then be used to leverage more federal dollars.

In a power point presentation to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council’s board of directors, Executive Director Tom Logan said the additional funds would enable Valley Metro to start a pilot to expand bus routes between university and college campuses and to increase services to rural areas and colonias.

In the presentation, Logan utilized data provided by Ann Millard of Texas A&M University, which showed that increased public transport improves the opportunity low income families have to visit superstores and farmers’ markets to purchase healthy meals.

“We have recently met with Dr. Millard from Texas A&M University and she was telling us how public transportation is not only crucial for work and to attend school, but also for a healthier life. She said there is a relationship between public transportation and healthy living,” Logan told the LRGVDC Board.

“They call them food deserts because there is no access to grocery stores so they end up buying other, less nutritious types of foods. They (Texas A&M) are asking us to address those needs, to reach those colonias, those areas of low income where there is no public transportation to get to the grocery stores and food bank pantries. So, this pilot will basically be a win-win for their needs and our needs.”

Logan began his presentation by pointing out that a consortium was developed a couple of years ago to improve public transportation between college and university campuses in the Valley. He said the consortium consisted of UT-Rio Grande Valley, South Texas College, Texas State Technical College and Valley Metro.

“In 2015, we created a consortium to address the need for a seamless college/university campus transportation network. Since then we have come a long way. But, there is still a lot more need. We want to go back to Austin and request more funding to address those needs, such as reaching the colonias, reaching the rural areas within the RGV. This is one of the highlights of this proposal. Expanding the level of service that we currently have to those areas that really need it, such as colonias and rural areas here in the Valley.”

Logan gave a shout out to Los Fresnos CISD, which reached out to Valley Metro in 2010 in order to get improved public transportation between Los Fresnos, TSTC Harlingen, Texas Southmost College in Brownsville, and UT-Brownsville.

“We were approached by Los Fresnos school district, the City of Los Fresnos and Workforce Cameron to address the need of the college students graduating from Los Fresnos CISD and wanting to reach TSC, TSTC, and UTB in Brownsville. They did not have the connectivity to go the next step. We built on that coalition. Route 45 is one of our most successful routes in our network,” Logan said.

“But, it is very clear we need more service. We hear testimonials all the time from students, from the parents, from workers, veterans. Everybody in the region really needs more public transportation. It is crucial for us if we are to grow in the right direction.”

One of the testimonials came from Kay Resendiz. She said: “I have obtained my Master of Science in Accounting degree at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. With this being said, public transportation is very important to me since it was my only resource to get to school. I have used the service of Valley Metro for about two and a half to three years which allowed me to continue with my education and helped me to obtain my degree.”

Logan’s presentation included a number of eye-catching statistics. Perhaps the most striking was one that showed that Valley Metro will have increased ridership by students from 2,196 to over 400,000 in seven years, if 2016’s projections hold true. That would mean a 18,114 percent increase.

“What we are proposing is to add more buses to that main line so we can connect the STC Pecan Campus to the Edinburg UTRGV campus and TSTC Harlingen campus so that students will have access to the main campuses throughout the region. It will be seamless with more frequent services, more amenities, Wi-Fi, to get more out of their bus route,” Logan told the LRGVDC Board.

Wanda Garza, STC’s representative on the LRGVDC Board, praised Valley Metro for working with local colleges and universities. She called it a “unique partnership” that deserves to be expanded. Garza said she had heard from state Senators Eddie Lucio and Judith Zaffirini and they are supporting Valley Metro’s agenda.

Logan then recapped Valley Metro’s legislative agenda. “These state funds will be matched at the federal level. We are asking for $5 million from the state. For this two-year pilot we are looking for $11 million of additional dollars to add services to our region,” Logan said.

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, who chairs the LRGVDC, said it is not just low-income families that benefit from increased public transportation.

“Because of our environment and the carbon footprint, it is not only going to help low-income people, public transportation is something that we all should take advantage of. There are a lot of folks that are getting on public transportation. This is the future. All the car dealers will probably shoot me for saying this. We do not need as much of a carbon footprint as we have out there. Secondly, we do not have as much money for roads.”

STC’s Garza proposed endorsing Valley Metro’s legislative agenda and Mercedes Mayor Henry Hinojosa seconded it. A motion endorsing the legislative agenda passed unanimously.