The first year for the Rio Grande Valley’s MPO has been an auspicious one indeed.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is the merger of three separate Valley entities, embodies a regional approach to infrastructure and transportation planning for South Texas, and it already has garnered the top award from the national Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations.
The AMPO awarded the new Valley group the Outstanding Transportation Management Award for its efforts to facilitate mobility in the region. The national group oversees more than 300 MPOs nationwide and their mobility projects ranging from airports to walking and cycling trails.
MPOs were mandated in the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1962 to help ensure the best planning and most efficient use of federal transportation funds.
According to reports, Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez nominated the Valley group for another premium, the Excellence in MPO Coordination and Partnership Award. The AMPO decided the local efforts warranted better placement, and moved it to the higher category.
Perhaps the award was given as much for potential as for performance. The merger of the Brownsville, Harlingen-San Benito and Hidalgo County MPOs came after years of debate, in which some officials worried that they would lose control over their infrastructure needs. In the end most officials agreed that a regional approach would serve the Valley best.
Moreover, joining forces created the fifth-largest MPO in Texas in terms of the number of people represented, and qualifies it for levels of funding that are reserved for only the largest areas. The Texas Department of Transportation has estimated that the larger, single entity could bring in some $11 million more per year than the three smaller groups combined might have received.
For example, TxDOT already has allocated $1.1 billion to the RGVMPO over the next 10 years for regional transportation projects.
As we have noted before, however, the greatest importance of a unified MPO is that it reflects a combined, regional approach to mobility planning that can help the entire Valley progress more efficiently. State and federal officials have long said that project applications usually receive more serious consideration when they are presented with a united front rather than competing requests within the same region.
Valley MPO officials say the merger already has paid off in funding for regional projects that might not have been proposed or even considered by any of the former three groups that focused on more isolated and localized endeavors.
That’s the kind of thinking that helped lead to the creation of a regional university that appears to be functioning efficiently and providing students, both local and from other areas, a high-quality education at a reasonable cost. Overcoming local biases also helped that university include a medical school that, in light of the need for research, testing and public services created by the COVID-19 pandemic, already has proven its worth.
We trust that the recognition exemplified by the AMPO award assures local officials that the regional approach is paying off, and inspires them to maintain their commitment to cooperation and regional thinking.