Update: RGV officials present plans for merged MPO

Mayors Chris Boswell, Tony Martinez, Jim Darling and Ambrosio Hernandez of Harlingen, Brownsville, McAllen and Pharr, respectively, are seen outside a private plane upon recently presenting plans for a combined MPO servicing the Rio Grande Valley. (Courtesy photo)

The three South Texas Metropolitan Planning Organizations, which are responsible for carrying out transportation planning in urbanized areas across Texas, are set to merge after years of negotiations, leaving leaders in the Rio Grande Valley optimistic that the region can cohesively compete for the same transit funding as Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Dubbed the Valley MPO, according to a recent draft of the agreement, it would fight for more federal funding that MPOs receive through state departments of transportation. The merger of the Hidalgo County, Harlingen-San Benito and Brownsville MPOs will likely comprise of a new 31-member policy board made up of the largest cities in the two counties, and Hidalgo and Cameron County themselves.

The last steps to making the merger official are signatures from nine people: Gov. Greg Abbott, Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina, Harlingen Mayor Christopher Boswell, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña and Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, who is currently chairman of the Hidalgo County MPO. The MPO confirmed the three MPOs are indeed on the cusp of merging.

These signatures are expected once the respective city and county elected officials vote to authorize their mayor or county judge to sign. On the agenda at Pharr’s regularly scheduled city commission meeting on Monday is exactly that. The remaining cities and counties are expected to do the same in the coming days and weeks.

Hernandez, who was recently in Austin with some of the other officials hoping to hammer out the final touches on the draft with the federal highways department and the Texas Department of Transportation, said on Friday that he was thrilled. After all, the region is made up of 1.5 million, not including the thousands of people who visit from Mexico, and therefore, Hernandez said, the Valley should fight for its deserved funding.

“We’re very much, in one regard, like San Diego. They have a land port, seaport and airport, just like us,” Hernandez said. “But we look nothing like them, because everyone wants to chase their own cheese.”

Hernandez added: “We need to connect every piece of road from Rio Grande City to the island, from Military Highway to northern Hidalgo County, Brooks County, even Willacy County. We need to identify which roads, which freeways, which bridges we need to improve, and what we’re missing.”

For years, Hernandez, Darling, Cortez and others in Hidalgo County had been pushing for a Valley-wide merger. But it was often met with mostly dismissal in Brownsville, and some smaller cities, all of whom said they were not convinced that the money the merger could potentially bring would not just be funneled to the larger cities.

Martinez, Brownsville’s mayor, displayed his lack of interest through various channels. In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, he said the merger was not the best thing for Brownsville, calling it a “pie in the sky” idea.

But on Friday, on the heels of the merger, Hernandez was in no mood to criticize anyone, only congratulating his colleagues who helped the parties reach an agreement.

“People put their egos outside the door, and we asked: What do we need to make ourselves better so that everybody wins?” he said.