Weeks after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the documents formalizing the merger of the three Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the Rio Grande Valley, the actual merger is now in motion.
City commissioners in McAllen on Monday voted to approve Mayor Jim Darling to be the city’s primary representative on the policy board of the newly formed Valley MPO, which is expected to be completely merged and functioning by October.
This is a fairly quick turnaround from the ink drying from Abbott’s pen to a new MPO in operation, something that seemed bleak just last year.
The Hidalgo County MPO had been on board for a merger for years, while the Harlingen-San Benito and Brownsville MPOs had some hesitations, perhaps no one more publicly than former Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez. Like some other officials who were unsure about the MPO merger, Martinez didn’t know if it was in Brownsville’s best interest.
“We all have plans to do some things in all of our communities, so we can’t disrupt that,” Martinez said after he and other officials signed the MPO merger documents during a ceremony in Weslaco in late April. “And that was something that was quite nebulous and unclear for a long time.”
MPOs fight for federal transportation dollars 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 long received the most funding, because they’re the largest MPOs in the state.
Now, officials in South Texas and in Austin have said the Valley MPO will “have a seat at the table” to receive significantly more transit dollars.
“We need to connect every piece of road from Rio Grande City to the island, from Military Highway to northern Hidalgo County, Brooks County, even Willacy County,” Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, one of the South Texas officials most involved in the merger, said after the merger was announced.
He added: “We need to identify which roads, which freeways, which bridges we need to improve, and what we’re missing.”