WESLACO, RGV – Pharr Mayor and Hidalgo County MPO Chairman Ambrosio Hernandez says he hopes cities across the Rio Grande Valley will look closely at new information provided by TXDOT about the possibility of additional transportation funding coming to the region.

At a Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting, Pete Alvarez, Pharr District Engineer for TXDOT, spoke about an additional $110 million in transportation funding being made available to the Valley over a ten-year period – if the region’s three MPOs merge. Alvarez said he had made the same presentation to Harlingen-San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization and had attempted to do so to Brownsville Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Ambrosio Hernandez

“I am sure they (Brownsville) want the same thing we do, they want better roads, they want more money,” said Hernandez, after listening to Alvarez’s remarks. “I think we will ultimately get there (the formation of a united MPO). I think there are some misunderstandings.”

Hernandez said he hopes the three MPO chairmen in the Valley can see the bigger picture.

“You have to have the vision and the willingness to come to the table. It is kind of hard to say you are looking at the data when you are not and you are not allowing people to speak on facts. That is not really helping. You may have preconceived notions, but just by having an open dialogue, a conversation, I think we can get past whatever misconceptions there may be. Most people fear change because they think they will lose something. It is just the fear of the unknown.”

Hernandez said he would ask Hidalgo County MPO Executive Director Andrew Canon to write to the Texas Department of Transportation to let the state agency know just how much HCMPO supports a merger of the three Valley MPOs. Valley leaders will soon get an opportunity to discuss the future of MPOs in the Valley with the new Texas Transportation Commission chairman, J. Bruce Bugg, Jr. Bugg will be in the Valley on Tuesday. One of the events he will speak at is the 1st Annual State of Regional Mobility and Infrastructure Luncheon – RGV, which is being hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and held at Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

Hernandez said some Valley mayors may have “heartburn” over who is going to have a seat at the table if the three MPOs merge. He said he was happy to let other MPOs present their ideas on this and would try to meet them halfway.

“I think we should strongly push for it because that is a lot of money for the Rio Grande Valley to be missing out on,” Hernandez said of merging the three MPOs. “There is probably some unknown money that we do not know about because we are not there, because we are not at the table (with the big four MPOs in Austin). I cannot think of a city here in the Rio Grande Valley that does not want more money for their infrastructure. I am sure those cities need more money and I hope the cities have an open mind when we go and see them again.”

TxDOT’s Alvarez started his presentation to the Hidalgo County MPO by pointing out that a decision on whether to merge the three Valley MPOs would ultimately be made by local elected officials. He said TxDOT simply serves as a resource. He then ran through the numbers.

Alvarez said approximately 80 percent, or $9.8 billion, of Category 2 and 7 funding goes to the three big four MPOs in the state – Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. The remaining 20 percent, or $2.5 billion, goes to the remaining 21 MPOs in Texas. If the Valley’s MPOs were to merge they would represent a population of over one million and thus be part of the so-called “Big Four.”

Alvarez said that if the three Valley MPOs merged they could expect to see an additional $110 million over a ten-year period, based on current formulas. Of this $110 million, 17.5 percent would go to Brownsville MPO, 16 percent would go to Harlingen-San Benito MPO, and 66.5 percent would go to Hidalgo MPO. He said the percentage split was arrived at through population and other factors.

Alvarez said that in additional to the Category 2 and 7 funds, there may be additional pots of money. He said he relayed this information to Harlingen-San Benito MPO earlier this month and tried to do the same at a Brownsville MPO meeting. “Unfortunately, we were unable to share these numbers because of constraints,” Alvarez said.

The subject of merging the three MPOs was on the Brownsville meeting agenda. “I was advised this data had not been previously submitted. Therefore, I could not introduce it,” Alvarez said. He said he was sending the financial projections associated with the merger of the three Valley MPOs to the three groups by mail. “We want to make sure everyone has the same numbers. We are trying to be transparent, to make sure everyone has the facts,” Alvarez said.

Andrew Canon

Meanwhile, Hidalgo County MPO Executive Director Canon has given the Rio Grande Guardian an update on the group’s long- and short-range plans.

“We are budgeting $1.1 billion in federal, state and local monies, for transportation projects in Hidalgo County over the next 20 years,” Canon said. “The number fluctuates. We hope to get more money.”

Canon pointed out this budget is only for roadway construction. “On top of this, we have transit projects as well. We did transit updates working with Valley Metro and McAllen Metro. Valley Metro has funding for more buses from the Federal Transit Administration. Valley Metro’s ridership is increasing, it has gone up six percent over the past year, which tells us people are either wishing or needing to take mass transit.”

Asked what the big road construction projects are, Canon said: “The Pharr Interchange, some bridge projects in Pharr and Donna, North 10th Street in McAllen, a continuation of Bicentennial North from Trenton to 107, and improvements to FM 1925, Monte Cristo. And this is not a wish-list. We are legally not allowed to do a wish list. All of these projects are identified with real money.”

Canon added: “There are some really good projects on the horizon for Hidalgo County. We update and amend this project every quarter. We are pretty excited about it.”