BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The secret behind the success of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority is the man in charge and the coordination he and it has with Cameron county administration says County Commissioner Dan Sanchez.
Speaking at a RGV Leadership class, Sanchez said that coordination comes from having County Administrator Pete Sepulveda, Jr., run the RMA as its executive director. Sepulveda is thought to be being considered for county judge for Cameron County, filling the unexpired term of Judge Carlos Cascos, who, subject to Texas Senate confirmation, is heading to Austin to become Texas Secretary of State.
“In Cameron County we are blessed to have the best RMA in the state. Why do you think our RMA is so great? Is it because the Cameron County RMA is smarter than anyone else? No. What happened in Cameron County was unique in that the head of our RMA is also the head of our county. He is our county administrator and the director of the RMA,” Sanchez said, referencing Sepulveda.
Sanchez spoke to the RGV Leadership class at an event at the Cameron County Courthouse last Friday. He pointed out that the county commissioners appoint the RMA board members. “When you have the head of the county also being the head of the RMA you can work in conjunction. So, when we go to Austin to work on funding for transportation issues, not only are we going as Cameron County, we are going as the RMA.”
Sanchez said the RMA has mastered the knack of having the funding in place as soon as TxDOT announces it has the funds to partner on top regional projects. “The RMA, because they are dedicated to transportation, they learned, they have evolved in a way where they anticipate how to get the funding. To get funding you need to have turnkey projects. You need to have projects that when they say, we have got this pile of money, who is ready? Cameron has all these projects ready to go (whereas) everyone else has projects that they are thinking about doing but there has not been investment to get them ready.”
The Cameron County RMA’s mission statement is to “provide transportation that promotes safe and effective mobility, improves the quality of life for area residents, creates quality economic development, jobs and generates revenues to sustain a regional transportation network, internationally.”
Among the top regional projects Cameron County RMA is working on is the West Railroad Relocation project, which will be the first international railroad crossing between the United States and Mexico in 107 years. It is slated to open in the early part of 2015. Another top project is the State Highway 550 toll road that links the Port of Brownsville to I-69 East. It is also working on a second causeway to South Padre Island and has provided the funds for the design and engineering costs associated with TxDOT’s I-69 East overpasses in Willacy County and the environmental assessment costs associated with the I-69 East overpass at Sarita.
Sanchez also spoke about the importance of regionalism at the RGV Leadership class.
“Down here we always have that Friday Night Football mentality. Everybody goes in their own little city and fights for their own piece of the pie,” Sanchez said, saying he needed to give credit to a friend of his who was in the audience at the RGV Leadership event – Dr. Nolan Perez of Harlingen.
“Dr. Perez is a big proponent of making the pie bigger. Let us not fight over this small pie but make the pie bigger. How do we make it bigger? Through economic development,” Sanchez said. “How does that happen? We work together. Instead of being seen in Austin and in D.C., as Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy, let’s be seen as South Texas. Let’s be seen as one area of population. Let’s be seen as a contender that contends with Harris County, with Dallas County, with Bexar County and the Travis County of the world. It is not very difficult to do if we work together.”
To the point about importance of regionalism, Sanchez said it makes no sense to have three Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the Valley. They are situated in McAllen, Brownsville and Harlingen. “Right now we have three MPOs in the Valley. Because we are smaller MPOs our funding is limited on what we are able to get compared to larger MPOs. If we merge, guess what happens? We are getting a bigger slice of the pie.”
He also spoke about the importance of completing all the overpasses along State Highways 77 and 281 so that the Valley can connect to I-37 near Corpus Christi via two interstates – I-69 East and I-69 Central.
“Our efforts at increasing Interstate 69 haven’t just been so that we can say we have an interstate. If you are in San Antonio and you talk to anybody about going to the coast, where do they talk about going? Corpus. Why, because that is where the interstate ends. When you are in San Antonio and you talk about going to the border, where do they go? Laredo. Why, because that is where the interstate ends. Nobody sees the gem of South Texas that we have.”
All the time Valley cities are competing, it allows the state leadership to ignore the region, Sanchez argued. “What does Austin do? Well, (they say) as long as they (the Valley) are fighting we are off the hook. We do not have to give anybody anything. But if we stop fighting and say, you know what, we are going to have Interstate 69 East, Central and West; then it is time for them to pay up. That is where we have gotten to, slowly but surely we have merged into an area where things are happening.”
Sanchez is very keen for Cameron County to work more closely with its larger neighbor to the west, Hidalgo County. He sees opportunities to improve cooperation thanks to the recent election of Eddie Cantu as county commissioner for precinct 2 in Hidalgo County.
“When I was in law school, 18 years ago – I am giving my age away – I had two roommates, one was the district judge for the 444th, my brother David Sanchez, the other was a guy named Eddie Cantu. Eddie Cantu is now a county commissioner-elect in Hidalgo County. We are like brothers. I am going to build that relationship with him to help mobilize and make us regionalize. When we all start thinking, how do we make the pie bigger instead of fighting over the small piece that we have, we all win.”
Sanchez concluded his remarks with this: “So, those are some ideas that I have that we could work on. I cannot do it alone. No one can say, I have done this, I have done that. It is a team effort. If you do not have a team you are not going to get it done. I am glad you are building a team,” Sanchez said, referring to the Rio Grande Valley Partnership’s Julian Alvarez and his RGV Leadership Class of 2014.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series highlighting the work of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority. Part two will be posted later this week.