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Featured: High school students race their balloon powered cars during “Introducing Girls to Engineering Day” as part of Engineering Week on Thursday, February 22, 2018 at the Engineering Building at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg. The Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council, along with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and its Board of Directors, lobby the Texas Legislature and the UT System Board of Regents on matters that benefit and protect UTRGV and its School of Medicine, which have major campuses in the city. 

Photograph By PAUL CHOUY

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Inner-city trolley bus service designed to increase prosperity for downtown restaurants and other businesses being reviewed by Valley Metro and Edinburg Economic Development Corporation

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

An inner-city trolley bus service that would make it easier for hundreds of people – especially those who work or do business at the Hidalgo County Courthouse – to dine, visit or shop at nearby downtown restaurants, offices and retail shops is being considered by Valley Metro, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The idea was brought up by City Councilmember Gilbert Enríquez on Tuesday, February 27, 2018, during the regular monthly meeting of the Board of Directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which was held at Edinburg City Hall.

The Edinburg EDC, of which Joey Treviño is Executive Director, is the jobs-creation arm of Mayor Richard Molina, Mayor Pro-Tem David Torres, Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr., Councilmember Gilbert Enríquez, and Councilmember Jorge Salinas.

The Edinburg EDC Board of Directors is comprised of City Councilmember Enríquez as President, Edinburg School Board Trustee Miguel “Mike” Farías as Vice-President, Councilmember Salinas as Secretary/Treasurer, and Mayor Molina and Mayor Pro-Tem Torres as Members.

Enríquez raised the possibility of the downtown trolley bus service, which would provide the large number of persons who gather daily at the Hidalgo County Courthouse, with a fixed route that would conveniently and affordably transport them back and forth to dozens of nearby businesses, which serve as the heart of the city’s downtown economy.

‘There are a lot of people who work in the courthouse who don’t want to go to the parking lot, get their cars, then try to find parking where the restaurants are located, where they probably won’t find parking, and they can’t do all that within their lunch hour,” Enríquez illustrated. “One of the things I think would be beneficial would be to have some type of bus trolley system just for the downtown area. Since we  are soon going to open the Edinburg Transit Terminal nearby, could Valley Metro help our downtown residents and businesses?”

The Edinburg Transit Terminal’s location at 617 W. University Drive between 6th and 7th streets strategically places it near institutions, facilities, and businesses which draw thousands of visitors daily during the workweek from throughout deep South Texas.

The 15,000-square-foot, two-story Edinburg Transit Terminal, which is being built on a 1.2 acre site donated by the Edinburg EDC, is located between The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Edinburg City Hall. It will serve as a home for Valley Metro.

Valley Metro, which is part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, provides public bus transportation in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Zapata counties, linking the major cities, as well as The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campuses throughout the Valley.

Enríquez shared his hopes with Ron Garza, Executive Director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, which administers Valley Metro, and Tom Logan, Executive Director of Valley Metro, who were presenting an update to the Edinburg EDC Board of Directors on the $6.4 million Edinburg Transit Terminal, which is under construction.

“One of the things that we have had discussions a while back was having a trolley bus service for just our downtown square and area, where the courthouse is,” Enríquez reflected. “The logic behind that is to help the businesses, especially the restaurants around the courthouse, to survive.”

Enríquez was concerned that many courthouse employees and visitors are discouraged from dining or shopping at downtown businesses because of the high risk of losing their parking spaces, which are in high demand during the work week around the courthouse complex.

Garza said such a concept “is a great, forwarding-thinking idea,” and said he would instruct Valley Metro’s expert staff, under Logan’s leadership, to come up with ways to achieve such a goal.

“We would have to explore it, we could look at it,” Garza. “I think it is a feasible project. It just becomes to the administration of how we do it.”

Enríquez encouraged Garza and Logan to provide their expert guidance.

“If we can definitely look into it and just review it, and see if it is a possibility, because I think that’s something that can benefit the downtown area, especially all the businesses around the courthouse,” Enríquez emphasized.

“Yes, it sounds like it. I agree,” Garza replied. “We would call it a kind of ‘city looper’ – a dedicated service per your specs, for businesses, things like that.”

Garza added that Valley Metro, in coordination with the City of Edinburg and Edinburg EDC, would determine what would be the routes serving the downtown region, at what times, on what days, how often would those vehicles be in operation, how much would it cost, and how would money be generated to cover the costs.

“It starts with getting the scope of what you envision, then turning that into a proposal that goes in this transportation improvement plan. Once that gets approved, then we actually figure out the administration, that kind of thing,” Garza said.

Garza said there are buses made to look like the famous San Francisco Cable Cars so passengers know they will transport them within a limited area.

“The trolley facade (appearance) is just a way to communicate visually that it is an inner-city loop kind of route. That’s why usually they look different, so passengers are not worried about jumping on one and ending up 10 miles across town,” he continued. “By looking like a trolley, it tells you it is staying within a proximity.”

Grant applications for funding inner-city bus service using trolley buses for the downtown area have deadlines coming up as soon as May 2018, but at least one other option is available that could be put into place sooner rather than later.

“If we really wanted a sense of urgency, there’s other things we can do, and it might not actually be a trolley. We can use an existing route, and basically modify an existing route, same thing, calculate how much operations that would entail, and then customize an existing route,” Garza said. “That could be a short-term solution to actually getting the dedicated trolley system and that kind of thing.”

In the case of the Edinburg Transit Terminal, the federal grant obtained by Valley Metro covers 80 percent of the cost of construction, while Edinburg only contributes 20 percent. Initially estimated to have a $5.4 million price tag, the cost may go up by another $1 million. But Edinburg would only have to pay $200,00 of that possible $1 million increase.

“The extra cost involves optional office space that we put into the project, and finishes of the facility to ensure that it is ready to be used by the riding public, visitors, and citizens of Edinburg,” Tom Logan, Executive Director of Valley Metro, said.

Former Edinburg EDC Board Member Posadas was pleased with Valley Metro’s ability to apply for transportation grants, making it possible and affordable for local governments to make projects such as the Edinburg Transit Terminal a reality.

“All costs related to the Edinburg Transit Terminal have been at an 80-20 match, no matter what,” Posadas said at the time.

“It went up, obviously, the price, but for every eighty cents, twenty cents were matched by the city or the EEDC, so it is a great program,” Posadas said. “Even if you increase the costs by $1 million, they (Valley Metro) are still footing 80 percent. I think it’s a great program.”

“Absolutely. It really does speak to the value, what the value of transportation transit services are doing in the Valley,” Garza said. “Years ago, we were de-obligating money that we were having to turn back to the federal government because we couldn’t obtain the local match. So now, the fact that it is getting more competitive locally for that, it is a good thing, because we are starting to demand more as our population grows. Eighty percent  – twenty percent is a great investment.”

During the Thursday, May 11, 2017 groundbreaking of the Edinburg Transit Terminal, Andrés Mata, Jr. Associate AIA, Project Manager, Negrete & Kolar Architects, LLP, provided the following synopsis of the Edinburg Transit Terminal:

The new building facility and site development will include various lease spaces and the Edinburg Transit Terminal will be located at the northwest intersection of State Highway 107 (University Drive) and Sixth Street in Edinburg.

The two-story edifice contains approximately 15,000 square feet and sits on a 1.2 acre site consisting of the  Edinburg Transit Terminal with six bus stops, vehicular drop-off circulation, outdoor gathering plaza, ground floor lease spaces, and second floor offices with monumental stair entry and outdoor roof gathering space overlooking the existing McIntyre Promenade.

Situated along University Drive and the McIntyre Promenade equidistant between the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Edinburg City Hall, the new Edinburg Transit Terminal will compliment both facilities, yet retain its own modern and unique aesthetic to become a focal and gathering point for the city.

The fully accessible site will contain continuous brick pavers to connect with the promenade, a public plaza with shade canopies at each bus stop, outdoor bench seating, landscaped areas, lighting with modern signage, and a public art display.

The structure consists of large volumes of earth-tone masonry, low-e glass, and exposed steel to convey a feeling of airy openness befitting a modern transportation hub.

The 1,600 square-foot state-of-the-art Transit Terminal, with comfortable and modern seating for almost 60 passengers, will maintain up-to-date digital signage throughout the facility and at all bus stop canopies.

The site will also contain a total of approximately 4,300 square-feet of ground floor lease spaces – facing both University Drive and the McIntyre Promenade. A 7,600 square-foot second story will include an ‘office bridge’ and outdoor roof terrace.

The contemporary offices will be accessed via a monumental stair (or elevator) with decorative fountain and articulated lighting. Inside, the clean and modern finishes will provide a progressive environment for business and entertainment while overlooking the promenade through the north facing windows.

The entire facility is protected by a digital fire alarm with sprinkler system and is energy and environmentally conscious with its thermal and moisture protection, waste, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.

The innovative Edinburg Transit Terminal will be the principal landmark point to gather, depart, and arrive into the City of Edinburg for generations to come.

Key background about the architectural firm and non-governmental individuals involved with Negrete & Kolar Architects, LLP to design and build the Edinburg Transit Terminal follow:

Project Architect: David Negrete, AIA
Project Manager(s): Bruce W. Menke, Andrés L. Mata, Jr., Associate AIA;
Project Consultants, Structural: Miguel Chanin, PE; Chanin Engineering, LLC
Project Consultants, Mechanical/Plumbing: René Olivares, PE; RO Engineering, LLC Electrical: Jose Antonio Nicanor, PE; Sigma HN Engineers, PLLC
Project Consultants, Civil: Carlos Garza, PE; AEC Engineering, LLC
Project Consultants, Landscape: Jan Giles, PLA; Coleman & Associates; Negrete & Kolar Architects, LLP:

Relevant projects by Negrete and Kollar McAllen include ‘La Central’ Intermodal Transit Terminal, City of Edinburg World Birding Center, City of Edinburg Professional Baseball Stadium, City of Edinburg Police Station and Public Safety Building, Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District Central Administration Building & Complex; University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Marialice Shary-Shivers Building Renovation, and UTRGV Performing Arts (Buildings A & B) Complex Renovations.

GIRLS FROM AREA HIGH SCHOOLS ATTEND UTRGV ENGINEERING WEEK GIRL DAY

Engineering is commonly known as a male-dominated profession. But The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s College of Engineering and Computer Science is striving to shift that demographic and break stigmas by inspiring young women to become engineers.

On Thursday, February 22, 2o18, during its first Engineering Week Girl Day, more than 30 high school girls, all students from Progreso and Weslaco, visited the UTRGV Edinburg Campus for a day dedicated exclusively to sparking their interests in a field in which women continue to be underrepresented.

During Girl Day, students took part in numerous activities, such as live demonstrations, hands-on activities and presentations, all presented by UTRGV engineering faculty.

Edna Orozco, Lecturer in the Manufacturing and Industrial Engineering Department and one of the faculty members who helped organize the event, said seeing accomplished female engineers can be enough to suppress the stigma behind women in STEM.

“They usually think of men as being smarter than women, but when they see our female faculty presenting their projects, they think, ‘Wow. Well, I can do the same,’” Orozco said.

As the students filed into the Engineering Building, they were greeted by the faces of UTRGV’s female engineering faculty displayed on a large TV screen at the entrance.

“If you see the actual field of engineering, we aren’t that many,” Orozco said. “It’s our duty to instill this into the girls, and that’s why we do these activities.”

At the beginning, only one girl said she was interested in engineering, Orozco said. But after the first presentation, the number spiked to eight.

Jackie Valenzuela, a senior at Progreso High School and soon-to-be UTRGV freshman, said attending “Girl Day” changed the way she looks at engineering, and has inspired her to explore the field when she starts college.

“When I first got here, engineering wasn’t something I was particularly interested in,” she said. “Now, it’s something that I’m really looking forward to studying. I used to only associate engineering with cars and things like that, but now I know that you can work with clothes, makeup or just daily things that you find problems with. If you have the mentality to find a solution, then you can achieve it.”

Engineering Week started Sunday, February 18, and continued through Saturday, February 24, on the Edinburg Campus. Organizers said the weeklong event was an opportunity to reach out to young students so they can visit the university and see what engineering is all about.

For more information on Engineering Week, visit http://www.discovere.org/our-programs/engineers-week.

About UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

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J. Edward Moreno  contributed to this article. For more information on the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://edinburgedc.com or tohttp://www.facebook.com/edinburgedc

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