EDINBURG, RGV – Space is being left at the new Edinburg Transit Terminal for light rail, otherwise as commuter rail, says Tom Logan, executive director of Valley Metro.
The $5 million project is currently under construction and should be completed at the end of the year. The terminal, measuring almost 15,000 square feet, is being built close to Edinburg City Hall. It will allow five existing bus routes provided by Valley Metro to connect.
“You have a lot of generators of passengers in this part of the county, such as the county courthouse, You have the university, you have the medical facilities. So it is a destination, Edinburg is a destination for the entire Valley. So, we want to make sure we have those connections across the Valley brought to this point,” Logan said.
Valley Metro is a public transit system administered by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. It runs Jag Express for South Texas College and Vaquero Express for UT-Rio Grande Valley. Fifty percent of Valley Metro’s bus riders are students. They can ride free and use free wifi while traveling.
“We have transit champions in Edinburg and I want to thank the leadership for their vision,” Logan said, after speaking recently at an Edinburg Economic Development Corporation meeting. There he was joined by other partners in the transit terminal project.
On the subject of light rail, Logan said: “The existing rail line is right next to the transit terminal. We left space in there so when that (light rail) is ready, we are ready.”
Light Rail – Closer Than You Think
The subject of when, not if, the Rio Grande Valley gets a light rail system is the subject of LIVE at Bob’s event hosted by the Rio Grande Guardian next Tuesday lunchtime. State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, vice-chairman of the Texas House Committee on Transportation, is the guest speaker. He will discuss his efforts to secure funding to purchase right of way along the existing Edinburg to McAllen, and Mission to Brownsville freight rail lines.
The LIVE at Bob’s event is titled “Commuter Rail for the RGV – Closer than you Think.” It takes place at Bob’s Steak & Chop House in Edinburg. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. and the program starts promptly at 12 noon. Tickets for a three-course meal cost $25.
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a member of the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation, praised Rep. Martinez vision and work in getting light rail to the Valley.
“It is really about having the vision. We know our highways are congested and that the growth in the Valley is not slowing down. We have to prepare and provide different methods of transportation for the general public,” Hinojosa said.
“It takes a while to build it but yes (light rail is needed). It will certainly be a plus for our transportation needs in the future. We cannot expect to continue to build more and more expressways. We need to find different modes of transportation and make them available for the public.”
Andrew Canon, executive director of Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization also praised Martinez on twi work to bring light rail to the Valley.
“I have worked with the representative for some time on this issue. He appointed me to the commuter rail board, when we had that. We did a study and we saw the ridership numbers were excellent for the area,” Canon said.
Canon said while the Valley is well set for light rail, given that rail tracks run alongside Expressway 83, the lines will have to be upgraded, so that rail cars can run faster.
“We need to do something about upgrading the class of that line, so we can move faster along that corridor. Until that happens, there will be a little bit of a detriment to it (the project),” Canon said.
He also said good relationships will have to be established with Union Pacific, which owns the line along Expressway 83, and Rio Grande Valley which leases it.
Canon said Rep. Martinez is right to focus on securing funding for right of way.
“Preserving the right of way is definitely the genius thing to do because the biggest hurdle we run into with transportation projects is right of way. Costs grow exponentially, so that by the time you get to do it you cannot afford the right of way to move forward with the construction.”
Asked if light rail was a real goal, or just a dream, Canon said:
“I think it is a great vision, I don’t think it is a dream. I think that the north-south corridor, that ends up right by the university, at the new Edinburg Transit Terminal, is very important. When we have the population we have, of young people coming in to seek an education here in the Valley, and staying in the Valley… McAllen has done considerable work on their entertainment district, creating something like a 6th Street-feel in Austin… if we can move those young people down to the entertainment district, let them have a good time, and they are never going to be behind the wheel of a car, that is tremendous.”
Added to the students who live and study in Edinburg that may want to party in McAllen, another segment of the population will be well-served by a light rail line that connects the two cities, Canon suggested.
“That is the population we have that works in one city and lives in the other. I think that is such a short distance it is the low-hanging fruit. It is the way to go. I know he (Rep. Martinez) is very aware of it.”
As for the east-west corridor, that would connect the Upper Valley to the Lower Valley, Canon said:
“I think anything we can do to help to pull people out of a vehicle and put them on some kind of transportation network that is going to get your from A to B… where we work with our transit providers to make sure that the backbone (of buses) is there so we have connectivity to things like the Outlet Mall in Mercedes, which is considerably north of the line, but people are going to want to go to it, I think that is good for all of us.”
Canon, like Sen. Hinojosa, gave his views on light rail to the Rio Grande Guardian after speaking at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the widening of Owassa Road in Pharr.
“I think it is the regional aspect, like the mayor (Pharr’s Ambrosio Hernandez) and the senator were talking about, which is so important. We could have people come over from Mexico, stay the night in a hotel in McAllen but take light rail out to Mercedes to do their shopping (at the Outlet Mall). They could stop in Weslaco on the way back to have lunch. They finish up their trip and are back across the bridge. We put fewer vehicles on the roadway but we got people from A to B. Everybody in the region benefits from it.”
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Canon also praised Valley Metro, the City of Edinburg and Hidalgo County for investing in a new, state-of-the-art transit terminal.
“Light rail makes that a true multimodal terminal. You can take the train south to McAllen in minutes. You can enjoy your time. So many times I have taken the DART in Dallas or the system in Houston. People using those systems are in their leisure moment, making that commute to work. They are reading the paper, they are on their phone, they are on their computer doing work. It affords you the opportunity to have some down time, to decompress before you go into the work environment or when you leave the work environment. For me, as a transportation planner, it gets more cars off the road, anything we can do for that, to make it a safer commute, it is a win-win.”
Canon added: “I know the representative (Martinez) has had this vision for sometime and I think it is a tremendous vision. I am glad to see him way ahead of the curve of anybody else in the Valley because these are the type of things that we do now, and I am not saying it is going to take that long but in 20 years, when we have it, it is going to have been through the efforts of people like him and others who are working collectively to make this happen.”