WESLACO, RGV – Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., says the consolidation of the Rio Grande Valley’s three metropolitan planning organizations could mean billions of additional dollars for transportation projects.
Metropolitan planning organizations are local decision-making bodies responsible for overseeing the metropolitan transportation planning process. An MPO is required for each urban area with a population of more than 50,000 people.
The three MPOs in the Valley are Hidalgo County, Brownsville, and Harlingen-San Benito. The three have agreed to merge.
By merging the MPOs, the Valley is considered one of the state’s larger metropolitan areas and thus able to access more discretionary dollars from the Texas Department of Transportation.
“What this merger means and what it signifies, I have used the word generational. I don’t think we are exaggerating the point,” Treviño said.
“I dare say that over the next several decades, we are not talking about tens of millions, hundreds of millions, we are potentially talking about billions of dollars in transportation and infrastructure projects that are long overdue and they are going to be the driving force for the continued economic development we need here in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Treviño made his comments in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM immediately following the recent signing of the merger document. The historic signing ceremony took place in the boardroom of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council in Weslaco.
Treviño was one of eight elected officials to sign the document. The others were Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, Edinburg Mayor Pro-Tem David Torres, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña, and Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez.
“Many, many people, many leaders, elected and otherwise, never thought the Valley could come together like this,” Treviño said. “To set aside differences, apprehensions and concerns and have a thorough, full-throated discussion about the issues, making sure everybody was protected at the same time, compromising for the entire region, that is why today is historical.”
Treviño said signing the document was the first step. “We still have some things we have got to get done. But is sends a message. If we set aside our provincialism, if we set aside our differences and concentrate on our commonalities, anything in the Valley is possible. That is the message we want to send to the rest of the state, the rest of the country and the rest of the world.”
The merged organization will be called the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization. Asked if a second causeway for South Padre Island could be one of the projects the Valley MPO considers, Treviño said:
“Absolutely, that was one of the driving forces from our perspective. That is a regional project. Some people may look at it and say, oh, that is only going to benefit the island or Cameron County. No, because part of that project includes a new state highway, all the way from the second causeway, FM 1925, all the way to Edinburg. I cannot think of a more regional project than that one.”
Treviño said the negative impact on tourism that occurred when the Queen Isabela Causeway was damaged in 2001 gave impetus to the campaign to build a second causeway.
“We realized the need for it. It has now taken 18 years to get to this point. We are so, so, hopeful and optimistic that by merging the MPOs, that those large ticket items like the causeway, like the FM 1925 project, will finally get off the design page and become a reality.”
Treviño added: “This is a great day for the Valley, a great day for the state and a great day for the country.”
Texas Secretary of State David Whitley arrived at the LRGVDC offices just after the MPO merger document was signed. In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM, Whitley said:
“It is important the RGV sees itself as a region and is able to leverage resources in a way that allows it to compete with the other big regions and cities in the state of Texas. Today’s agreement proves this is possible. I wanted to be here on the ground to congratulate everybody involved. To make sure that people know Austin is appreciative of all the work that everybody put in to make this MPO merger a reality.”
Harlingen Mayor Boswell agreed that the merger of the Valley’s three MPOs was historic.
“We have the opportunity now to promote some large, regional projects. It gives us a larger and much stronger voice in Austin. Speaking with one, unified voice, as a larger MPO,” Boswell said.
Boswell noted that 70 percent of the funding TXDOT distributes goes to the largest MPOs. “So, we now have an opportunity to tap into that very large source of funding that we did not have before.”
Boswell said he is confident smaller communities will be looked after by the new MPO. “There will be subregions. Each of the subregions will be assured they can have the same kind of income stream they had before, so nobody loses anything.”
Boswell said that by “standing together” the Valley will gain more resources.
“The fact that we really did work on this project together, that it did not come from above, that it came from us actually having to work with one another and negotiate things… the devil is always in the details. We had to work out a lot of details in this agreement. But, we got it done and at the end of the day it does make us a better region. It paves the way for more cooperation in the future.”
McAllen Mayor Darling said if one word summed up what the merger is all about, it is money.
“It is all about money. We have always been talked about as a region, the Valley, but we have not been treated as a region at the state level. Now, it is official. We are officially a region that the state will recognize. There are dollars there for that. When you are bigger, you get more attention,” Darling said.
Darling is hopeful that after the 2020 Census, the Valley will be listed as the fifth largest metropolitan area in Texas.
“What this means for this funding cycle, if the Governor signs the document, we will be able to sit at that table where the discretionary funds are decided. It does not mean everything is going to be paved with gold. Congestion is still a major criteria… we think not only do we have the population but also congestion to get some money to make improvements to our roadways here.”
Asked what big project he thinks the new MPO will look at developing, Darling mentioned the Valley’s Outer Loop.
“We kind of go east-west and north-south, but we do not connect very well. That for me, is very important. If you look at everybody else, places like San Antonio, Lubbock, they have circulation. We do not have those.”
Darling added: “This is a long process. It takes about 14 years from the time of conception to the time we finish a (big transportation) program. We cannot expect things overnight but I certainly think things will be accelerated from the standpoint of funding.”
Mission Mayor O’Caña acknowledged he had been skeptical of the merits put forward by supporters of a merged MPO.
“I was the stubborn one holding it back, based on the fact that I did not want to budge on certain things. I wanted an eclectic balance of representation.”
He said he is happy his counterparts in other Valley cities helped change his mind.
“Regionalism is no longer a concept, it is a reality. Now, it is life on a daily basis here in the Rio Grande Valley. We are going to be planning, working, implementing, and having action plans jointly with the two counties that have been merged into one MPO,” O’Caña said.
Asked if the smaller communities on the western side of Hidalgo County would be looked after by a merged MPO, O’Caña said: “The county does not stop at Mission. There are other cities, Alton, Granjeno, Palmview, Penitas, La Joya, Sullivan City that are in the county, that are not in the signatory committee. We must make sure there ample representation by Hidalgo County because we are such a large county.”
O’Caña added that he hopes Starr and Willacy counties are soon represented by the merged MPO.
Texas Transportation Commission meets
AUSTIN, Texas – The day after the MPO merger document was signed, the Texas Transportation Commission met in Austin. Among those in attendance were state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen, Treviño, Martinez, Hernandez, and Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantu.
The group officially presented commissioners with the re-designation agreement for Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) consolidation.
Noting that this is the first time in Texas history that three MPOs have merged into one, Hinojosa said the merger will provide increased revenue to repair roads, provide congestion relief, maintain the highway system, and fund border projects to prevent loss of revenue at the international ports of entry.
Here is Hinojosa’s statement:
“After three years from the time we started the conversation about merging the three Valley MPOs, I was honored to present the signed agreement to the Texas Transportation Commission. By taking this regional approach, the newly created Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization (the Valley MPO) will be one of the largest in the state. This merger will allow South Texas to access more funds to construct larger projects. The merged MPO will be more efficient and allow for projects to be considered and approved as a region.
This historic moment would not have been possible without the regional cooperation, collaboration, and negotiations that were pretty tense at times. However, in the end, the benefits of a merged MPO prevailed over a small city approach. With the creation of the Valley MPO, we have delivered on our commitment to speak with one voice. The Valley MPO will be a powerful advocate for addressing the infrastructure needs of South Texas that are required to continue being an economic driver for the state.
I appreciate the leadership, cooperation, and team work from all of our public officials involved in making this a reality. I also want to thank Governor Greg Abbott for his continued support of our region. Lastly, I want to recognize and commend TxDOT Pharr District Engineer Pete Alvarez for his commitment, guidance, and support throughout this process.”