WESLACO, RGV – Eduardo “Eddie” Lucio, Jr., a Texas state senator representing the 27th District, proposed the creation of a light rail system throughout the Rio Grande Valley to accommodate the heavy demand of public transportation during a Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council meeting.
Lucio traveled to Europe about a year ago and came back enthused. He rode one of the light rail systems–a public transit service that resembles a modern tramway. During the meeting with the Lower Rio Grande Development Council (LRGVDC), Lucio dubbed his initiative the Lower Rio Grande Valley Challenge: The Valley Light Rail System.
“Our mode of transportation must not only keep up with our current, existing demands, [but] it must also help facilitate and pave the way for our future growth,” Lucio said.
“Imagine being able to board on a light speed rails system and travel from Brownsville to Mission or La Joya including Edinburg without getting stuck in gridlock. Imagine being a business owner and being able to have workers from all over the Valley come to work at your industrial complex through a safe and reliable mode of transportation. Imagine being able to live in Mission and being able to go to work in SpaceX.”
Lucio said the light rail system would greatly benefit the region by providing a robust and efficient multimodal infrastructure system that would allow the efficient, reliable and predictable delivery of goods, people and services. There is also a possibility the transit system could aid and lead to new business ventures such as the aerospace companies and the development of industrial machinery. The light rail system would also link the international corridors of the immediate Gulf Coast communities to the rest of the region. This would allow the transport of goods and people.
“As we have researched this issue, overall there are a number of benefits that we would see for having a light rail system in the Valley,” Lucio said. “Generally, a light rail can do the following: help alleviate travel congestion, reduce pollution [from] cars that are no longer on the roads, be a unique form of transportation that encourages and urges economic development, increase property values, broaden local sales tax receipts by increasing the commuting of individuals that normally would have been travelling into and out of a region, nurture [as well as] enhance tourism opportunities, increase tourism dollars and lastly provide an affordable means of transportation for low income families.”
According to Reconnecting America, a national non-profit organization that integrates transportation and community development, a light rail transit could cost as low as $34 million based on the Houston transit system in 2004 and as high as $65 million based on the Los Angeles Gold Line in 2003. Reconnecting America’s projected costs range from $20 to $60 million per mile.
However, Lucio said the challenge is whether or not the region has the political will to take the project head-on.
“[We can] increase our multimodal transportation infrastructure if we partner up with private capitalists including from our international markets that could assist in financing through public-private partnerships,” Lucio said. “That is happening not only in Texas, but all over the country.”
Lucio asked the audience, which included the staff of local legislators, local transit officials and LRGVDC department heads to “think about it.”
He said: “See increased tax revenues because of our increased sales receipts, increased tourism dollars, increased property values, lower pollution, lower congestion and possibly new jobs, new business opportunities.
“Without question the resulting economic multiplier in fact could catapult the Valley into vibrant economic times. You can visualize the transformation of our Valley into an economic powerhouse in Texas, our country, and in the international marketplace.”
Lucio said he would personally be meeting with his good friend, John Sharp, chancellor of Texas A&M University System. “I will be asking him to request from the Texas (A&M) Transportation Institute a feasibility study.”
However, Lucio said he needed the help of those in the audience, including Sergio Contreras, newly appointed president and executive director of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.
“I ask you to do three things,” Lucio said. “No. 1: ask if we are complacent with our low tax base that we currently see in our region? No. 2: ask are we satisfied with our high unemployment and poverty that we have? No. 3: Or can we roll up our sleeves to work together on a better future for our region?”
Lucio added: “If you can I urge you to take the helm in forming a Light Rail Coalition throughout the region. The Coalition would be for the benefit of the Lower Rio Grande Valley region. I stand ready to make this initiative a reality alongise you. I hope that we can at the very least take up and consider this in the very near future.”
After Lucio finished his pitch, Ron Garza, LRGVDC’s executive director said: “I think as the transportation discussion grows, it’s delighting for you to lead it and speak of that,” Garza told Lucio. “It’s an absolutely perfect segue. We use the strategic plan process to gather so much feedback and transportation kept coming up over and over and over.”
Editor’s Note: Reporter Steve Taylor contributed to this story from Weslaco, Texas. The main image accompanying this story shows light rail in Strasbourg, France.