Hardest work begins now, TxDOT official tells local MPO

SAN BENITO — One week after Gov. Greg Abbott signed off on creating a Valley-wide transportation agency, the reality of a new mega-MPO is beginning to sink in.

Members of the Harlingen-San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization met here yesterday and were told their work is just beginning.

“We are a in a position today where the Valley is on the map, as they say,” said Pete Alvarez, district engineer for TxDOT’s Pharr district. “The Valley has been talked about a lot for the last three or four months.

“With this spotlight, if you will, on the Valley, it puts a little bit extra pressure on TxDOT Pharr district staff, and all of us really as an MPO, RMAS (regional mobility authorities) and local entities, to deliver projects,” he added. “We wanted the attention, here we got it. Well, now we have to deliver.”

The agreement to merge the MPOS of Harlingen-San Benito, Brownsville and Hidalgo County into what is now the fifth-largest transportation agency in the state came after years of negotiation and compromise.

The new merged agency will have access to hundreds of millions of additional highway monies from TxDOT funding categories which were previously unavailable.

Yet highway projects in the Harlingen-San Benito district have languished over the past year, with construction starting on just a few new projects.

Alvarez, who is a member of the Harlingen-San Benito MPO and will be a member of the merged MPO, previously has admonished fellow board members on the need to be more aggressive in kick starting new highway projects in the area.

With the MPO merger, he told them quick action becomes even more critical.

It’s like we’re the kid at the end of the bench, ‘Put me in, coach! Put me in!’” he told board members. “And if you don’t perform, then they sit you right back down.

“So now we’ve got to go and perform and that’s a challenge to all of us,” Alvarez added. “I’m energized.

“I’m excited for the opportunity that we have before us, but it’s going to take partnership, it’s going to take projects shovel-ready, making sure that we’re working together upfront and throughout the entire process.”

Although the major issues on merging the three MPOs have been agreed to, some bylaws and operational issues for the new MPO are still being discussed, and it is unclear when full agreement will be reached.

Officials hope to have the new MPO ready to begin by Oct. 1 to coincide with the beginning of the new federal fiscal year.

The fiscal agent for the reconstituted Valley-wide MPO is the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council which is headquartered in Weslaco.