Brazos County commissioners held a workshop Tuesday morning to discuss the possible creation of a Regional Mobile Authority to deal with traffic and transportation complications as the county continues to grow.
"Traffic and transportation are becoming a bigger issue in Brazos County," transportation consultant Dennis Christiansen told the commissioners during the presentation.
Christiansen said the area is in the same position Austin was 25 years ago; he and Douglas S. Bramwell, senior vice president of survey practice at Jones|Carter, warned the commissioners against becoming "the next Austin" in terms of the city's issues with traffic and mobility.
The county needs infrastructure, Bramwell said -- but how to pay for it?
Enter the Regional Mobility Authority, or RMA, which the Texas Department of Transportation defines as a political subdivision formed by one or multiple counties, or certain cities, to finance, acquire, design, construct, operate or maintain, expand or extend transportation projects.
The entities can develop transportation projects, issue revenue bonds, establish tolls, use surplus revenue to finance other local transportation projects, apply for federal highway and rail funds and enter into contracts with other governmental entities and Mexico, among other powers, according to a TxDOT presentation.
Bramwell described an RMA as "a district within a district," meaning they work with the local TxDOT district and are a regionally focused transportation development and implementation entity. RMAs do not have taxing authority but do have the power of eminent domain. They are not limited to roadways and encourage local control of building and operating regional transportation facilities. Projects can be extended into adjacent counties, and other counties can be added to the RMA after one is established.
RMA projects could include roadways, transit systems, parking facilities, toll roadways and pedestrian and bike facilities, among other project types.
"An RMA can gain money from just about anywhere," Bramwell told the commissioners, except through raising taxes, since it has no taxing authority. "It can look for ways to put a deal together through lots of different sources."
RMAs can receive gifts, grants, money, property or other things of value. They also can issue bonds and receive loans.
RMA boards are made up of an odd number of directors appointed by the commissioners court and a presiding officer appointed by the governor. Elected officials, non-residents, TxDOT, city, county or Texas A&M University employees and property owners whose land may be acquired are all disqualified from serving on the board.
There are nine RMAs in the state, the closest of which is the "Central Texas RMA" located in Williamson and Travis counties.
Bramwell and Christiansen said they would take their presentation to Bryan and College Station city council meetings in the coming weeks, but they wanted to present to the commissioners first, since the county commissioners court must authorize the creation of the RMA, starting the process of its creation.
Christiansen told commissioners there was "very little risk involved with setting it up," after Bramwell went over a list of reasons for creating an RMA: no higher taxes, no cost to the county while providing it with a tool to help solve transportation issues; a demonstration to lawmakers and TxDOT that the county is proactive, organized and engaged in solving its transportation issues; and a means by which the county can increase funding for construction.
Asked by Precinct 3 Commissioner Nancy Berry what the downsides are, Christiansen said there would need to be "a fair bit of education and local consensus-building before we go forward," since generally the public associates RMAs with the establishing of toll roads.