SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, RGV – The incoming mayor of South Padre Island has praised RGV leaders for setting up a regional metropolitan planning organization, pointing out that this could hasten the arrival of a second causeway to his city.
In his first major interview since winning the SPI mayoral runoff election, Patrick McNulty said he is looking forward to millions of additional dollars becoming available for the second causeway project.
Tens of hundreds of millions of additional transportation dollars are likely to come to the Valley now that the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board has been formed.
A second causeway for SPI is deemed a major regional project because it would include the Outer Parkway connector from the causeway to Harlingen and the expansion of FM 1925 from Harlingen to Monte Cristo Road in Edinburg.
“I think it is great that Cameron and Hidalgo counties and all the municipal entities have agreed to work together to form the one MPO,” McNulty told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“I think it is an excellent opportunity to grow our transportation infrastructure substantially quicker. There is no doubt we have been held back in the past. I look forward to South Padre Island having an opportunity to join the MPO, along with the other tri-cities.
The tri-cities McNulty was referring to are South Padre Island, Laguna Vista and Port Isabel.
“The new MPO is going to give us an excellent opportunity to push for a second causeway for South Padre Island. The second causeway will be desperately needed, if it is not already, as our tourism opportunities continue to grow. We have to focus on our tourism and let that sector grow.”
Asked if he was aware that the Valley is set to secure far more transportation dollars as a result of the merger of Hidalgo County MPO, Brownsville MPO, and Harlingen-San Benito MPO, McNulty answered affirmatively.
“Mayor (Dennis) Stahl has kept us informed. He has played a very active role in the background, encouraging the regional MPO to be created. I know Harlingen has been working on it for a long time. This has been a long time in the making and it is great that the municipalities and the counties have come together for the benefit of the whole Rio Grande Valley. The MPO will be the catalyst for incredible economic opportunities.”
Asked if he was aware that a second causeway to SPI was being touted as one of the new MPO’s top regional projects, McNulty also answered affirmatively.
McNulty handily won the SPI mayoral runoff election on Saturday.
Chairman Parker’s Perspective
One of the Valley leaders who wants to see a second causeway at or near the top of the new MPO’s list of regional projects is Frank Parker, Jr., chairman of Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority.
Parker was in attendance in Austin when Gov. Greg Abbott signed the documents to set up the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board. He was also at the very first meeting of the new MPO in Weslaco the week before last. Cameron County RMA will have a seat on the MPO and Parker has been designated as its representative.
We have been looking forward to this for a couple of years. We have long needed a regional approach. I have businesses in both counties. I have always been a regional person,” Parker said, immediately after the first RGVMPO meeting had ended
“I am glad we are working together more and maybe it will bring some big economic development projects to our region, such as, businesses or car factories. If we get the airports in here maybe we can start designations a regional air freight airport. Let’s get going.”
Parker said his understanding is that the RGVMPO will have up to 16 percent of the 80 percent of discretionary transportation dollars that TXDOT makes available for the largest MPOs in the state. Before the merger of the Valley’s three legacy MPOs, the region was stuck in the pool of MPOs that had only 20 percent of the discretionary transportation dollars to work with.
“We can get up to 16 percent of the 80 percent but that is going to be dependent on us having our projects ready to go. If we do not have them engineered and ready to go, the money is going to go to Dallas or Houston. It is going to be millions and millions of dollars,” Parker said.
Pete Sepulveda, Jr., was also at the first RGVMPO meeting. Sepulveda is executive director of Cameron County RMA.
“Under a new MPO we could get close to a billion (dollars) over a ten year period from the UTP,” Sepulveda said.
UTP stands for the Unified Transportation Plan. TxDOT could decide how many additional dollars will be allocated to the UTP this summer.
“Because of the additional dollars, I am already pushing for the Outer Parkway and the Second Causeway. These project will be a pretty big chunk of that (billion dollars),” Parker said.
“We want to make it a super regional project or something so it gets funded separately from the regular budget. Of course, I am selfish, I have a condo there (on SPI) but a lot of people in McAllen do also. And we want to make it non-tolled. I look forward to serving on this board.”
Chairman Deanda’s Perspective
S. David Deanda, Jr., chairman of Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority was also at the first meeting of RGVMPO.
“We are so excited (about the creation of the new MPO). We think it will be a big benefit to the Valley,” Deanda said. “We have worked super hard on this project for the last two years at the direction of the governor and we have really made progress in building one united Rio Grande Valley MPO. I am excited about the opportunities for all of us.”
Asked how much more funding he thought the new MPO could draw down, Deanda said: “There is going to be a significant amount of funding. I cannot give you the amount yet. We should be able to access part of the top 80 percent of discretionary dollars. The top five MPOs get 80 percent of the distribution and the remainder get 20 percent. You should see a significant influx of dollars to the Rio Grande Valley.”
Deanda added: “This is historic. This is showing the Valley is becoming united and doing the right things for the people of the Rio Grande Valley and I am just excited to be a part of it.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows incoming South Padre Island mayor, Patrick McNulty.