AP NEWS

‘Valley MPO’ rises from merger, awaits governor’s OK

May 2, 2019

SAN BENITO — The delivery date isn’t until Oct. 1, but the new addition to the TxDOT family already has a name.

The merger of the Valley’s three transportation agencies into a single organization has officially been christened the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, a mouthful of a phrase which already is being mercifully shortened to “the Valley MPO.”

Wednesday, TxDOT commissioners sent official notice of the Valley MPO merger to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature. Abbott is not expected to have any issues with the agreement, which TxDOT commissioners support, and Valley officials anticipate quick action by the governor.

The merger of the three Valley MPOs is significant beyond the rare occasion the normally competitive cities in the region have come to a consensus in which each of them sacrifices some autonomy.

Consolidating the three MPOs creates the fifth-largest such agency in Texas, and opens new funding avenues which at least theoretically could amount to hundreds of millions in extra highway dollars.

“ My understanding is that last Thursday when the announcement was made at the TxDOT Commission meeting, the governor’s office was already aware and they were working toward his signature,” Pete Alvarez, district engineer for TxDOT’s Pharr district, said at the Harlingen-San Benito MPO meeting Wednesday.

The Harlingen-San Benito MPO director, Joel J. Garza Jr., told the board he has been in contact with federal highway officials and noted that during the transition the MPOs all must be in compliance with federal law, but said the government was offering guidance toward reaching the goal.

“ We are working on bylaws based on the re-designation agreement,” Garza said. “Those will be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks, or months, I’m not sure how that plays out.

“ The recommendation from the Federal Highway Administration is to make sure we coincide with the federal year, so Oct. 1, if everything goes well, will be the first day when the new MPO will be combining,” Garza said.

Garza cautioned board members Wednesday the present MPOs will still be meeting monthly, and Alvarez agreed that it is crucial to continue mapping out road projects until then in order not to fall behind.

“ We’re still working on items that are from this fiscal year, from this budget,” Garza said. “One of them is our MTP (long-range Metropolitan Transportation Plan). Our timeline doesn’t change. We still have to make sure we complete our own MTP and then eventually we’ll combine it with a single entity. So this board is still needed up to Oct. 1.”

The new Valley MPO and the present MPOs which have agreed to the merger — Brownsville, Harlingen-San Benito and Hidalgo County — will continue to meet individually even as dual meetings are conducted by the Valley MPO as agreement is sought on bylaws and operating procedures.

Many of the current staffers will be attending both local and the Valley MPO meetings. Garza said an agreement has been reached to offer staff positions to all existing workers at the three MPOs.

rkelley@valleystar.com