The Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization has big plans for the new state legislative session.
Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, who serves as the RGV MPO’s chairperson, said that the organization’s three main priorities include the International Bridge Trade Corridor, the 365 Tollway, and a new access point from Edinburg to South Padre Island.
“Number one is — as you know we got together because we want to optimize the connectivity across the entire Rio Grande Valley,” Hernandez said. “The best way to do that is to prioritize projects that have the most impact. Our biggest project is called the IBTC. That’s the freeway that goes from Military Highway in South Pharr to the airport in Edinburg. It’s a new freeway being built — priority number one.”
“Our second priority for the region is the 365 Tollway, which goes east to west from Pharr to Mission,” he continued. “It’s part of the toll system road. It’s just the next phase of it.”
The 365 Tollway is a $280 million project that the MPO was able to get approved and fully funded. The MPO is now focused on acquiring funding for the IBTC.
“The third part is we want another access point from North Edinburg — meaning 281 all the way to South Padre Island,” Hernandez said. “Our constituents need to not only be able to move to the Island when it’s nice and warm and you want some sun or to go with your families, but when there’s a hurricane, we need more relief routes. That’s the purpose of that priority.”
The RGV MPO is the result of the merger of the three area MPOs in 2019 — the Hidalgo County MPO, Harlingen-San Benito MPO and the Brownsville MPO. The three merged to create a larger MPO for the Valley that would help leverage more funding for future projects.
“The funding is based on population and traffic congestion,” Hernandez said. “The Federal Highway Administration goes to the state. The state then gives every area funding for the roads. For instance, the city of Pharr can say, ‘I want a super highway.’ But you can’t compare yourself to Houston, right? So they would get the priority because they have more congestion, more safety, more commerce. So they would get it. It’s based on need. We were competing for the same pot of money.”
Since the three merged, it has collectively formed the fifth largest MPO in the state.
“The big upside is that instead of us being three geographical areas, now we’re one big one,” said Hernandez, who served as chairman of the Hidalgo County MPO. “Remember (funding) is dependent on population and congestion and traffic counts. So all of a sudden, we become a big area. In the state, we became the number five, and we’re probably going to be soon the number four largest MPO in the whole state. It would raise us up higher in the totem pole and let us get money from that bucket of money. We’re right at the table.”
He explained that before, the top four MPOs were receiving 80% of the state funding while the other 20% was distributed to the rest of the state. Now, as a collective MPO, the RGV MPO can receive a larger cut of funding to help make projects a reality.
“We’re extremely confident,” Hernandez said. “We already achieved the 365 (Tollway). We are at the verge of obtaining the IBTC funding as well, so our next item up to bat that we have to fulfil for the RGV MPO is we need that secondary access point to the island. These are the top three priorities.”