Mission tables interlocal agreement with Hidalgo County RMA for the Madero Bridge project

The Madero-Reynosa International Bridge is still a ways from happening.

Mon. Dec. 16, the Mission city council met to discuss several items, including a potential interlocal agreement with Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority (HCRMA) for the Mission/Madero-Reynosa International Bridge. City Attorney Gus Martinez said he reached out to the HCRMA to see if they wanted to partner with the city on the project.

Last year, the city approved an interlocal cooperation agreement with the cities of McAllen and Hidalgo which reallocated the percentage of each party, the allotment of the Madero Bridge Board and the responsibilities of the parties. Following the changes, Mission had a 37 percent stake of the project, while McAllen had 33 percent and Hidalgo 30 percent – but Mission would be responsible for covering the construction (McAllen and Hidalgo would repay Mission through tolls once the bridge is completed).

In June of this year, the city budgeted $5 million toward a potential environmental assessment and focused feasibility study that would cover both the Mission side and the Mexican side of the bridge. Several roadblocks have slowed down the process, including an expiring presidential permit (originally granted in 1978, set to end in 2021), a lack of consistent feedback from international partners and pushback from council members concerned about the city’s responsibility for the initial construction costs.

Several workshops on the Madero Bridge project have been requested by council to get a larger scope on Mission’s role and potentially change the cooperation agreement with McAllen and Hidalgo again to reflect a more even standing in responsibility.

During the regular meeting on Monday, Martinez said the agreement was submitted from the HCRMA for the consideration of the bridge and its environmental study.

“I know in fact that the RMA intends to work out of this area,” Martinez said. “And there might be a time – if in fact the bridge is built or construction begins – when we might interact with whatever work the RMA is doing.”

Martinez added that there may be an issue that would have taken the item into executive session.

“The interlocal hasn’t been reviewed by the RMA attorneys, so it’s kind of out there in limbo,” Martinez said. “But there is that proposal in case to consider whether or not any partnership with the RMA should be considered.”

Mayor Armando O’caña added that he and council member Alberto Vela have worked with the HCRMA and requested an estimate for the Madero Bridge.

“Right now our next step, if we’re going to construct it by 2027, we need to clear it for an environmental study,” O’caña said. “The RMA is willing to do the clearance of the administrative of the environmental, plus also manage the construction part for us.”

O’caña said that the HCRMA was willing to cover 20 percent of the project management at their expense, and Mission would be responsible for 80 percent.

“The interlocal agreement we have has a ceiling in terms of the years – not to exceed two years, and not to exceed over $2 million,” O’caña said. “That’s where we’re at.”

“If we do not enter into an environmental study, our presidential permit will expire in 2021,” O’caña added. “The United States Secretary of State’s office told us they would automatically extend it if we are already in construction.”

O’caña said the delays since 2011 have made Mission fall behind on the project, and noted the city has submitted three proposals to organizations on the Mexican side of the border to fund 50 percent of the construction.

“Without the permit, everything is going to go down,” O’caña said. “In 2021, if the permit is not renewed, then we would start from scratch and that would send us back a good seven years, or back where we were in 2011.”

Council member Jessica Ortega-Ochoa asked Martinez how long the attorneys from the HCRMA said they would take to review the agreement and answer questions. He responded that they did not say.

“That’s the concern that we have,” Martinez said. “We really can’t enter into an MOU [memorandum of understanding] or an interlocal since the legal part is not fully formed at all. We haven’t had any discussions with their attorneys, and I don’t know what their time frame would be.”

Martinez said the only motion council could make would be to consider possibly entering into a discussion with the HCRMA because nothing has been formed on the Mexican side or the HCRMA. O’caña thought that because they wrote the interlocal agreement, their lawyers would have reviewed it, so he asked who wrote it.

“It was sent here by some of their staff members, I was told,” Martinez said. “The interlocal for the RMA was not written here, and in fact Mr. Perez [City Manager Randy Perez] has made some changes and sent it to them with some revisions, but it has not come back signed or approved by their [legal].”

Council member Ruben Plata made a motion to table the item, saying there are still aspects that need to be worked out by the legal department.

“It’s a lot of money,” Plata said. “I’ve been asking for a workshop – is McAllen once again going to be supportive on this project? Are they on board or not? I really would like for us to make a decision, I understand it’s a sense of urgency.”

Ultimately, the council voted to table the item for further review and discussion.  

This article originally appeared in the Friday Dec. 20, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

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