Two Starr County cities publicly supported the move to join the the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, advancing the efforts to annex the county into what is already the fifth largest MPO in the state.
The Rio Grande City commission and the Roma city council approved a resolution supporting the annexation of their respective cities into the Rio Grande Valley MPO during meetings held Wednesday evening.
An MPO is a federally-designated planning organization for communities with a population of more than 50,000 to coordinate between the federal, state and local governments on transportation planning needs.
The transportation policy board, the decision-making body of the Rio Grande Valley MPO, decides which transportation projects will be funded.
“We want to make sure that everybody that could benefit from it including Starr County and all its populations,” Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, the chairman of the MPO, told the Rio Grande City commissioners during the meeting.
“We see that we’re always going to be stronger together,” Hernandez added. “We did it in Hidalgo County and Cameron County because we knew that we could be fighting for crumbs or we really could go after the big pie and sit with the big boys at the table.”
Andrew Canon, executive director of the Rio Grande Valley MPO, said Thursday that the idea behind annexing Starr County was so to make their planning more seamless as transportation projects expanded to the west.
“With the extension of (Highway) 83, the bypass around La Joya, there’s projects in the future that we hope to have that will provide direct connectivity between I 69C and Rio Grande City,” Canon said. “To provide connectivity for the truck traffic and for the commerce that we’re continuing to grow and have here along the border in the RGV.”
If the other Starr County cities and the county commissioners court were to Rio Grande City and Roma in approving resolutions to join the MPO, the transportation policy board would then have to approve their annexation. If they do, then would the board would ask Gov. Greg Abbott to re-designate the MPO boundaries include those new areas in Starr County.
Bringing Starr County into the fold would be just the latest step in unifying the Valley behind one MPO.
Originally there were three different MPOs in the Valley — the Hidalgo County MPO, the Brownsville MPO and the Harlingen-San Benito MPO. In 2019, though, the three agreed to merge into one.
Then about a year, discussions began to annex Starr County, according to Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña who has been involved in those talks.
The benefit to including Starr County, O’Caña said, was the strength the Valley gained from having one unified platform.
He argued that Austin would be more inclined to listen to the united voice of the Rio Grande Valley — from Brownsville to the Starr County — than they would listen to him talking just about the needs of his own city.
“It’s a unity for one purpose and that’s to bring more funding from Austin to South Texas as a whole,” O’Caña said.
Following unanimous approval of the resolution, Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal said he looked forward to what the union would bring.
“We are a single voice and as we are unified in this effort to secure funds — federal and state funds — as the Valley as a whole certainly speaks volumes for us and for the entire Valley,” Villarreal said. “I think this is going to be great for Rio Grande City and Starr County and look forward to these projects across the entire Valley.”