Gov. Abbott signs Valley MPO merger

Gov. Greg Abbott, center, signs the Rio Grande Valley MPO merger agreement on June 14, 2019. With him are, from left: Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina, Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, Abbott, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell. Back row: state Rep. Terry Canales, state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, and state Rep. Bobby Guerra. Not shown: Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez. (Courtesy photo)

In a historic moment for the Rio Grande Valley, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the last remaining open signature line on the merger documents of the Valley’s three metropolitan planning organizations last week, igniting what local and state officials have said will be a flurry of transportation funding for South Texas.

The Brownsville, Harlingen-San Benito and Hidalgo County MPOs will now merge to become the Valley MPO.

MPOs are responsible for securing federal transportation funds funneled to Texas. The four largest MPOs that have historically receiving the largest chunk of that funding have been the MPOs in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

The leaders of the Valley MPO merger — Pharr Mayor Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell — have said this newly created MPO will now “have a seat at the table” since it will be fighting for funds as a cohesive group representing about 1.5 million people, as opposed to a split region.

“The creation of this merger will bring access to transportation dollars to address our traffic congestions and our growth,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez.

Those leaders, and others from the region, were on hand for Friday’s signing at the capitol, including two of the MPO directors — Andrew Canon, Hidalgo County MPO director and Joel Garza, Harlingen-San Benito MPO director — and state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as well as state Reps. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, and Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.

“Thanks to the hard work of the many leaders and stakeholders here today, we are ushering in a new era of economic development and collaboration for the Rio Grande Valley,” Abbott said. “This region plays such an important role in growing the Texas economy and strengthening our international trade partnerships. I look forward to the tremendous new opportunities this agreement will create for the people of the Rio Grande Valley.”

It was the second time these group of RGV officials stepped foot in Austin in the last three months for this very merger. The group presented the merger agreement’s formal documents to the Texas Transportation Commission in late April.

Now that the merger signatures are complete, Canon said the merger is expected by Oct. 1, exciting officials about the prospect of more transit dollars.

“This historic step forward will allow us to fight for more funds to improve transportation and infrastructure in our communities!” Guerra said.