HARLINGEN — The city appears closer to building a $5 million transit center.
“It’s going to be a big project for Harlingen,” Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said yesterday.
Gonzalez said the city is considering tapping into its Free Trade Bridge cash reserves to fund its $1 million share of the project cost.
Now, the bridge’s reserve fund currently stands at $562,718, Sergio Villasana, the city’s deputy finance director, said.
Last year, Villasana said, $386,000 in bridge revenue was earmarked for the city.
Meanwhile, the Harlingen-San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization is setting aside about $4 million in grant money to help fund the project, Gonzalez said.
He said construction could begin within about a year.
But first, he said, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council is planning to use a grant to fund a feasibility study.
The study, expected to be completed in about two months, will determine the transit center’s profitability, said Tom Logan, director of Valley Metro, operated by the development council.
Next, the city will select the facility’s location, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said architectural work on the transit center’s design is expected to take three to six months to complete.
In Harlingen, the transit center is expected to help modernize mass transit.
“The quality of services will increase tremendously,” Logan said. “They’ll have better accommodations.”
Last year, the city’s new 10-year comprehensive plan ranked the transit center as No. 13 on the city’s priority list.
“I think it’s crucial,” Gonzalez said.
On about two acres, the transit center would feature a terminal with bays for buses serving the area.
“You want a location for transit facilities to congregate,” Gonzalez said. “That makes (mass transit) easier and safer to use.”
The center would serve as a hub for buses operated by Valley Metro, Valley Transit Co. and Greyhound along with bus companies such as Adame, Tornado and El Expreso that offer service into Mexico.
The transit center is expected to boost the city’s sales tax revenues.
Inside its terminal, businesses such as fast-food restaurants and retail shops are expected to rent space from the city.
Around the transit center, restaurants and retail shops are expected to open.
“We think it’s going to draw more visitors,” Gonzalez said.
For years, Valley Metro, now serving thousands of residents in the Harlingen area, has been transforming bus travel in Harlingen and across the Rio Grande Valley, Logan said.
For Valley Metro, the transit center would serve as a hub in northern Cameron County.
For decades, Valley Transit Co.’s station has served as the city’s bus center at 215. East Monroe Ave.
“It’s served its purpose,” Logan said. “It’s time for a bigger facility.”
Meanwhile, residents have boarded buses bound for locations in the United States and Mexico outside a Stripes convenience store on Tyler Avenue near the Interstate 69 interchange.
“They’re operating from a parking lot,” Logan said.
Gonzalez said the transit center will make bus travel safer.
“People are just hanging around the parking lot,” Gonzalez said. “There is lots of traffic.”
Gonzalez also said the city is counting on the transit center to complement the upcoming $16.7 million convention center.
Many conventions book their events at cities offering mass transit centers used to launch sight-seeing tours, Gonzalez said.
“It will allow us to go after conventions that require access to multi-modal facilities and mass transit,” he said.
Valley Transit Co.