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Hidalgo-County-SealThe rising cost of toll roads and parking is making owning cars prohibitive, Andrew Cannon, of the Hidalgo County Rail Commission, told Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

Cannon described rail lines as “the missing link” in the Valley’s transportation system. He denied that the bus routes overlapped the rail district and said they would work together in the future to move people to their destinations. Admitting the Rio Grande Valley was set up very differently than other parts of the county, Cannon also said the Rio Grande Valley Development Council supported the work of the rail commission as a viable source of transportation 20 to 25 years from now.

Judge Ramon Garcia said it is the duty of the Hidalgo County commissioners to plan for the future and if the government was mandating rail lines, it was their duty to support the action.

Previously, commissioners had questioned whether they could dissolve the Rail District Committee for the Rio Grande Valley, but State Rep. Armando Martinez said funding was coming through the state and federal governments. The county has no authority to dissolve the committee. He also said the program is not being funded by ad valorem taxes. In a previous meeting, it was suggested by members of OWLS, Objective Waters of the Legal System, that the rail district would become another taxing entity for the taxpayers of Hidalgo County to pay.

Cannon told the court the rail studies are about the future, and there is a lot of misinformation about whether or not it is feasible. He suggested that at the current time it might not be able to make money, but there were more reasons to look at the system.

Cannon said the trains could be an effective way of moving large groups of people out of the Valley in case of a projected major hurricane. The cost of moving people from hospitals one ambulance at a time would wipe the county’s emergency budget out in a short time, but if a large number of patients could be loaded on trains and moved out, there could be substantial cost savings.

Cannon said it is important to identify right-of-way for train rails now while there is still open land available to purchase. Right now, all work being done is being funded by federal grants. There is a possibility sales tax could be looked at as a way to fund the rail district, but currently the two cents available for local use is already in use by other entities, so it was not available.

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