The RGV Equal Voice Network’s housing working group held its monthly meeting at Affordable Homes of South Texas in Weslaco. (Photo: RGG/Apolonio Sandoval, Jr.)

WESLACO, RGV – The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network has announced its support for Valley Metro’s push to secure an additional four to five million dollars during the current legislative session in Austin.

The funds will be used to increase bus services in rural areas in the Rio Grande Valley, primarily so students can get to educational institutions like UT-Rio Grande Valley, South Texas College and Texas State Technical College in Harlingen.

“Valley Metro expanding their lines would really help,” said Amber Arriaga-Salinas Proyecto Azteca assistant executive director and press officer for Equal Voice Network.

Amber Arriaga-Salinas

“They need four to five million dollars to add more lines of transportation, especially with the expansion of UTRGV in Edinburg and Brownsville. Right now, the buses at the campuses are at capacity.”

Arriaga-Salinas said an expanded bus service would not only help students but the general public in rural areas.

“If they are picking up students in, let’s say, South Tower in Alamo, the families of the students will be able to go ahead and use those buses to get to other areas which is tremendously important especially because we have no or very little public transportation.”

Arriaga-Salinas said service expansion would further benefit students by leading to an improvement in attendance records, which in turn would increase in academic performance. Families, would benefit because it would reduce the number of food desserts in colonias.

“(In the colonias) we are 30 to 40 minutes from everywhere.”

Arriaga-Salinas recalled her time in school.

“I know that when I was in school [students] would miss classes, they would not be able to make it to work because the family has one car or no car, they can’t afford the gas and just don’t have a ride, so they are really missing out,” Arriaga-Salinas said.

“They (LRGVDC-Valley Metro) are just asking for a little help to get this going. This would be a step-forward for regional transportation.”

Valley Metro is administered through the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, the official council of government for Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties. Its transportation bill is being carried by state Rep. Armando Martinez of Weslaco.

On Feb. 1, Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network’s housing working group held a press conference at Affordable Homes of South Texas announcing its legislative agenda.

Ann Cass, executive director of Proyecto Azteca and chair of RGV Equal Voice’s housing working group, said: “$5 million, that would be a lot of money for me. But, it really is not a whole lot of money. When we hear, the Governor wants to send $1.3 billion worth of DPS agents down here, what is $5 million? We think that $5 million should be supported.”

Arriaga-Salinas said that last session, 5,000 signatures were collected for a petition supporting Valley Metro’s funding request. She said a new petition was now being circulated.

“Once we explained it to the community, they were all for it. They thought it was great,” Arriaga-Salinas said.

Asked about RGV Equal Voice’s legislative agenda, Arriaga-Salinas said: “Our legislative agenda comes from our families in our community bringing us information in how they are treated often unfairly by the system, and the other is a lot of advocacy work that we do.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows representatives from Valley Metro, South Texas College, Weslaco Economic Development Corporation, Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council and local legislators take a ride on the first Valley Metro bus to link STC’s Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco to its Pecan Campus in McAllen. The event took place in August, 2013. Video-journalist Apolonio Sandoval, Jr., contributed to this story from Weslaco, Texas.