Rio Grande Valley MPOs in Austin to take final steps toward merger

Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernendez is flanked by other valley mayors and county judge during the signing for a Valley-wide MPO merger on Wednesday, April,24, 2019 in Weslaco. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

AUSTIN — In perhaps the most collaborative effort in South Texas since the 2013 merger of multiple universities to create the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the region’s three Metropolitan Planning Organizations, which are responsible for securing federal transportation funds funneled to Texas, took its final steps toward a merger Thursday with the delivery of the formal documents to the state.

While State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, multiple Valley mayors and various other officials were in Austin for the merger, most of their minds were back home where — minutes after the Valley presented to the Texas Transportation Commission — Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina turned himself in to state authorities. Molina has been accused of illegal voting and organized election fraud stemming from his 2017 mayoral victory.

Officials privately aired concerns and frustrations that, of all days, Molina was arrested, arraigned and jailed during an otherwise celebratory moment for the Valley that local leaders had long worked toward. That work could culminate in an estimated $140 million in transportation funding for the Valley, Hinojosa said.

The day before, mayors from the largest South Texas cities gathered in Weslaco to celebrate and sign the merger documents. All the mayors but Edinburg’s. City Councilman David Torres signed the parchment paper instead of Molina. The following day, Torres’ company, David’s Bail Bond, posted bond for the mayor.

But for a time on Thursday, before Molina was in custody, the Valley delegation was jovial about its MPO accomplishment. So was the state.

“I can’t tell you how delighted I am,” said J. Bruce Bugg Jr., chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission at a meeting on Thursday. Bugg opened the meeting by ceding the floor to Hinojosa.

“Today is indeed a great day,” Hinojosa began, flanked by Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, who Hinojosa called “the hammer” in his work to get the merger accomplished. Hernandez joined Hinojosa, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño and Precinct 2 Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantu in giving brief remarks to the transportation commission.

“Today I want to thank all of you for your patience,” Martinez said, adding that he was proud of the delegation for coming together. “We have a lot of wonderful people in the Valley and it’s just a matter of all of us recognizing that we’re all equally important and that everyone matters.”

Treviño, like Hinojosa, referenced hurdles the delegation overcame, namely that they decided to, unusually, work together.

“We stand here united,” Treviño said.

Hernandez, in a suit and tie as opposed to his usual scrubs, shared similar sentiments.

“Nevertheless, we must put our differences and our ‘don’t move our cheese’ mentality out of the way and do what’s best for the region,” Hernandez said, before becoming emotional when thanking his family and Alonzo Cantu, the prominent Valley developer.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say it couldn’t be done,” Cantu said.

The commission thanked the group, and Hinojosa asked for a group photograph before the commission meeting got off to its business. But first, Bugg wanted to speak.

“I think this commission recognizes the great potential in your future and we want to be there and support you in that,” Bugg said.