New RGV MPO taking shape

The Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization is taking shape, with an interim director in place and a board of directors overseeing the transition from three South Texas MPOs to one.

Officials in the Valley are optimistic that a new Valley-wide MPO, as opposed to three separate organizations — the Brownsville MPO, Harlingen-San Benito MPO and Hidalgo County MPO — will mean more transportation funding for South Texas.

MPOs are responsible for securing federal transportation money available to the state for transportation planning and construction in urbanized areas across Texas. The MPOs in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio have for years received the most funding due to their size as, by far, the largest MPOs in the state.

Now, with the Valley MPO representing a region of more than 1 million people, as opposed to the three separate MPOs representing smaller sections of South Texas, officials have projected hundreds of millions in additional funds that could be available to Valley transportation projects.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez emphasized this point in June, when Gov. Greg Abbott signed the last remaining open signature line to complete the authorization for the merger.

“The creation of this merger will bring access to transportation dollars to access our traffic congestion and our growth,” Cortez said.

Cortez joined other Valley leaders in Austin for that signing ceremony with Abbott, including state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, state Reps. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Andrew Canon, Hidalgo County MPO director, and Joel Garza, Harlingen-San Benito MPO director. While Canon and Garza’s MPOs will not exist once the Valleywide organization begins formal operations in October, staff members at the three MPOs will not lose their jobs, the board of directors decided at a recent meeting.

“Probably the most important thing is they agreed that all current staff at all three MPOs would remain in their job,” said Ron Garza, who is serving as the interim RGV MPO director because of his proximity as executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, an organization comprised of officials from the region based in Weslaco, where the Hidalgo County MPO has also been based.

The LRGVDC has worked closely with the MPOs, but Garza said he is just serving in this transitional role until the RGV MPO begins in earnest in October.

“I’m just helping facilitate the process,” Garza said. “There’s been no decision as far as what they’ll do with permanent leadership.”

For now, Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez has been chosen as the first-ever chairman of the RGV MPO, and Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño has been chosen as the first-ever vice chair.