EDINBURG, RGV – In interviews and speeches at their respective swearing-in ceremonies, the county judges for Cameron and Hidalgo counties have thrown their weight behind uniting the Rio Grande Valley’s three metropolitan planning organizations.
A Metropolitan Planning Organization is a local decision-making body that is responsible for overseeing the metropolitan transportation planning process. In Texas, an MPO is required for each urban area with a population of more than 50,000 people. The Rio Grande Valley has three – Brownsville, Harlingen-San Benito, and Hidalgo County.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., spoke about merging the Valley’s three MPOs during a speech at his oath of office ceremony. Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez spoke about the issue during an interview with reporters at his ceremony.
“Unify the MPOs? Absolutely. I think we have all come to the conclusion that that is a good thing to happen, not only for them (Cameron County) but for us also,” Cortez said.
Treviño said that in the run-up to taking office two years ago he had spoken with Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell about important regional projects. He said that if the three Valley MPOs were to merge, the region would have more political clout in Austin.
“If we were merged we would be the fifth largest,” Treviño said. “Those are the core that split up 83 percent of the state money that goes to roads and bridges, transportation. The other 17 percent gets split by everybody else. So the fact that Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso have been able to coordinate, compromise, and develop a regional MPO for the benefit of their citizens, it is incumbent on us as leaders of this community, of this region, of the Rio Grande Valley, Cameron County and Hidalgo County and every community within it to make sure we do everything possible.”
Treviño said there is no way he is going to do a “bad deal,” one that sells the two MPOs in Cameron County short.
“It has got to be a good deal with regard to governance protection but if the rest of the state can figure it out, Good Lord, we are going to take care of it. Please encourage your elected leaders to continue to support that possibility.”
According to Pete Alvarez, Pharr District Engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, merging the three Valley MPOs would bring more transportation dollars to the region.
“The numbers are estimated but based on the current formula, we anticipate approximately $11 million a year, plus any additional funds that might become available in the future. So, over a ten-year period, we anticipate an additional $110 million,” Alvarez told the Rio Grande Guardian in late 2017.
Asked about the possibility of working with Treviño on important regional issues, Cortez told the Rio Grande Guardian: “Judge Treviño was mayor of Brownsville when I was mayor of McAllen. We are good friends and I am really looking forward to working with him on common issues. I think that having Judge Treviño in Cameron County will be an asset to the whole region. I think he realizes the benefits of thinking regionally.”
Asked about the possibility of working with Cortez on important regional issues, Treviño told the Rio Grande Guardian: “Judge Cortez, like myself served as the mayor of a big city in the Valley. He was mayor of McAllen when I was mayor of Brownsville. I don’t think I have much advise to give him. He knows what it takes to run a big city. That benefit of having been a mayor, in two of the largest cities in the Valley, served me well and I think will serve him well.”
Treviño added: “There are a lot of regional projects we can work on. We worked together when we were mayors. I am looking forward to continuing to work together with him as county judge. We know this is a critical time in the Valley’s history and what it means for our future. By working together on any number of projects, obviously the MPO at the top of the list, I think we should all focus on and aspire to for the benefit of the people that we have been elected to serve.”