The decades of political sparring among Rio Grande Valley cities in competing for federal and state funds – and recognition – has long been a source of anguish as to why local leaders could not put aside individual wishes for the greater good.
“We’re a unique area in that we don’t have one city that overwhelms all the others in the region,” said Ron Garza, the executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.
The Valley and its cluster of cities now have a population of nearly 1.4 million. The distance from Mission to Brownsville is about 69 miles. This is roughly the distance of suburbs from the west side of Fort Worth to the east side of Dallas. Unlike the DFW metro area, the Valley area has a historic struggle of reaching regional consensus on big issues that really matter.
Making big changes
The predictability of failure on regionalism was certainly turned on its head in late April. This is when an agreement in principle came about among the mayors of the largest Valley cities. They look to merge three metropolitan planning organizations into one. It’s a historic shift in the region that will greatly boost its opportunities to secure greater amounts of funding. These outlets of federal and state funding benefit highways, bridges and all manner of transportation-related projects.
The Rio Grande Valley MPO will now take its place among the super MPOs of the state. These are Houston-Galveston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio-Bexar County and Austin’s Capitol Area MPO. This means the RGV MPO with its size can now compete for funding categories that have been the province of the super MPOs. Over a 10-year span, that could mean the region getting upwards of over $100 million additional dollars in federal and state funds than if staying with three entities.
“Our region and respective cities have always been left out of larger funding opportunities, but now with one voice, we have a seat at the table,” said Victor Perez, the executive director of the Pharr Economic Development Council.
Regional benefits of RGV MPO
It’s not just about funding but an improvement in planning as well. Garza said transportation planners under one regional MPO can now have a unified focus on traffic-improvement projects. This includes east-west flows of commuter traffic as well as the north-south traffic of goods and services and international trade.
“It’s a proven fact that moving people and goods efficiently boosts economic development,” Garza said.
The new RGV MPO has already held its first meeting. In it came the election of its first chairman, vice chairman and an interim executive director. There was also an adoption of by-laws. Pharr Mayor Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez will serve as chairman and Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. will be vice chair. Garza will serve as interim executive director.
“It’s great to see their leadership that considered and acted on what is bigger than oneself,” said Sergio Contreras, the president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. “It’s going to benefit our entire region.”