Unity: Valley officials join forces to address regional projects

After years of debate, the Rio Grande Valley’s three metropolitan planning organizations have agreed to merge.

It marks a commitment to regional planning that takes precedence over more local interests. We trust that will be the case.

Local city and county officials last week signed a merger document drawn up by officials with the Texas Department of Transportation, and took it to Austin where they met formally with TxDOT commissioners. Gov. Greg Abbott now must sign off on the merger, which he’s expected to do soon.

MPOs were created by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1962 to plan and manage the use of federal transportation dollars. Some 25 MPOs operate in Texas, three of them currently in the Valley: Brownsville, Harlingen-San Benito and Hidalgo County.

The merger creates one larger body that becomes eligible for a higher level of funding that is reserved for entities that serve more than 1 million.

The Valley will be one of only five MPOs in that category, joining Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston-Galveston, Austin-San Marcos and San Antonio-New Braunfels.

TxDOT estimates the Valley-wide MPO will receive about $11 million per year more than the three smaller bodies received together.

The question now is how that money will be spent. And that perhaps has been the largest sticking point in these merger discussions; the additional funding comes with less control.

A regional body might prioritize a second causeway while a mayor might have used his share of the lesser funding to address pothole problems in his town.

“We had to give up some autonomy, and that’s very tough to do. It’s probably the biggest hold-back in the Valley,” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling conceded at the April 24 local signing ceremony.

“So this is built on trust between all of us, a trust in the great things that can happen in the Rio Grande Valley if we all agree to work together.”

A 31-member board will oversee the new board, including seven from Hidalgo County and five from Cameron County.

The Valley’s larger cities also having at least one representative each.

The challenge for the members of the new MPO will be giving proper attention to both the larger projects and more localized needs. Both are important.

Ultimately, however, we welcome the new commitment to cooperation and regional planning. It’s a welcome departure from the petty bickering over past issues such as the placement of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley medical center, and the Regional Academic Health Center before it, that threatened to undermine both projects and made their development more difficult than it should have been.

The infighting drew complaints and even threats from legislative officials, who refused to consider some bills without assurances that they had the support of the entire Valley.

We trust a regional approach will prove successful, and inspire Valley leaders to work together even more in the future.

The Valley Morning Star