BROWNSVILLE, RGV – There are plenty of things the Rio Grande Valley can benefit from if its various communities work together, according to new interim Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda, Jr.
Pledging to take the next step into greater cooperation among the counties in the Valley, Sepulveda said he will be meeting with county judges in Hidalgo, Willacy and Starr within the coming weeks to begin drawing up a regional agenda.
Among his priorities, Sepulveda said, are to consider a merger between the three Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in the Valley, placing an emphasis on the Port of Brownsville, and making a veterans hospital the highest priority in the region.
“I think when Judge (Carlos) Cascos came in, he started out by meeting with the judges from the surrounding counties, and I think we need to take that a step further and start implementing some of the regional projects we may have in that area,” Sepulveda said in a phone interview with the Rio Grande Guardian.
“Merging the three Metropolitan Planning Organizations into one, if you do that, then your population increases, and all of a sudden you’re at the table with Austin, San Antonio and Houston, which is what you want to do because once you get to that level, then the level of funding you receive is much higher than what we receive as three individual MPOs,” Sepulveda said. “Things like that need to be addressed, but the same thing can be said about regional health issues we might have, utility issues we might have with water, sewer, electrical.”
Sepulveda, who is also Cameron County Administrator and executive director of Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority (CCRMA), was named interim county judge by county commissioners on March 5. The vote was 4-1, with Commissioner David Garza being the single dissenting vote.
Sepulveda was the odds-on favorite to be named to the post just days before Cascos takes over as Texas Secretary of State.
Cascos was re-elected county judge for another four-year term last November. Sepulveda has been asked to fill in as county judge for two years. In 2016 voters will select another county judge to serve the remaining two years of Cascos’ term. Sepulveda has said he does not intend to run for county judge in 2016.
In the meantime, Sepulveda said pledging to work with the other counties is not a new concept. Collaboration dates back to the early 1990s, he recalled, when the counties came together to build a regional expressway spanning the entire Valley.
“We took it to Austin, and we started seeing changes when it came to funding. We started seeing improvements to the expressway system, and eventually we got the entire expressway expanded to where it is today, so that’s a prime example of what we can do when we work together,” Sepulveda said. “If we show unity in Austin and Washington, then I can guarantee you we are going to see the results and a lot more benefits to the Valley’s constituents.”
Sepulveda also pointed to the collaboration his county has with Hidalgo County on completing the FM 1925 project. Known as Monte Christo Road in Edinburg, the road will be expanded in order to provide what Sepulveda calls a vital east-west corridor in the northern part of the Valley. The highway will connect to I-69 East in Cameron County and, by linking to the Outer Parkway, provide quicker access to South Padre Island from the northern part of the Valley.
CCRMA is taking the lead on the FM 1925 project. Sepulveda said CCRMA wants to make sure that FM 1925 is built concurrently with its two other main projects; a second causeway into South Padre Island, and the Outer Parkway project, which is the 15 mile span of road that will begin north of Harlingen, and will connect I-69 East to the entrance of the new causeway.
“I think it has been done in the past. When Judge Cascos first came in, in 2007, they started doing that,” Sepulveda said about regional cooperation among the counties. “Unfortunately, we all have priorities in each of our counties that require our time. I just think we need to follow through and make sure we start implementing what we put on our agendas.”