McALLEN — In April, J. Bruce Bugg Jr. gaveled in the state’s transportation commission with a wide smile.
“I can’t tell you how delighted I am,” Bugg said at the meeting in Austin. Though Bugg chairs the Texas Transportation Commission, on that day he ceded the floor to state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa.
It was a big day for the Rio Grande Valley: the three South Texas organizations responsible for securing federal transportation money merged to create one cohesive body, which could fight for a larger share of federal transportation funding.
Last Friday, Bugg was joined in McAllen by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn to discuss the past, present and future of transportation in South Texas. Officials heavily involved in regional transportation were on hand to discuss the issues, from the need for a throughway from Edinburg to South Padre Island culminating in a second causeway, to the need to work with Mexican officials to ensure infrastructure south of the border is able to accommodate the frequent cross-border trade and travel.
On a small raised stage in a ballroom at the DoubleTree Hotel in south McAllen, Bugg and Cornyn were joined by Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr., Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez and Texas Department of Transportation’s Pharr District Engineer Pedro Alvarez. Pharr Mayor Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, who is also the chair of the newly formed Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, — which is the organization that was created by the merger of the three MPOs that no longer exist — also partook in the event.
Andrew Canon, executive director of the new MPO and the former director of the Hidalgo County MPO, was on hand, as was former Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, who resigned from office earlier this year after his tenure was mired in controversy. Hinojosa, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and various other local and state officials were also in attendance.
Cornyn’s Rio Grande Valley visit, which would be capped off by a Friday night fundraiser as Cornyn is up for re-election in 2020, marked his third trip to the region in as many months, all focusing on local issues such as trade, drainage and, on Friday, transportation. To that end, Cornyn invited Bugg following a conversation the senator said he had with Cortez during a drainage tour of Hidalgo County last month.
“He has always been a friend of the Valley,” said Sergio Contreras, president of the RGV Partnership, the Valleywide chamber of commerce that hosted Friday’s event, and has hosted Cornyn on previous visits.
While the officials flanking Cornyn on the stage echoed the friendship sentiment, they also wanted help.
“We have huge international ports of entry,” Cortez said. “That is a huge asset for the state of Texas and also for our country. Unfortunately, we, unlike other places, do not have a federal interstate highway. So we’re seeing our truck trailers go through roads that weren’t built to carry heavy trucks.”
He also mentioned the lack of roadways out of the region for emergency evacuations, which Treviño also mentioned when he spoke, as Cameron County is often the area that gets hit hardest by storms.
“Judge alluded to some of the darker issues we deal with on a daily basis,” Treviño said of Cortez, and mentioned the “two 500-year storms” in two years, citing the summer rain storms in 2018 and 2019.
“These events showed the need that we need to start working together,” Treviño said. He and others on the panel said that a need for a second causeway was necessary.
Treviño added: “Mr. Chairman, please help us on that.”
Bugg said he appreciated the meetings last Friday and repeatedly mentioned his pride for the region and what the merger means.
“What I’ve learned today is that the merger of the three MPOs coming together — your area, the RGV, is truly speaking with one voice,” Bugg said. “And that is very important from a state of Texas standpoint so we know there is one united voice in the RGV.”
Already, Bugg said the budget for Valley transportation dollars doubled from $1.1 billion last year to $2.2 billion this year. And there have been $540 million in state-run projects under construction in the Valley over the last year.
“And that,” Bugg said, “is a great compliment to your area.”