Following a successful review by the Texas Department of Transportation, Brazos County’s petition to form a Regional Mobility Authority took another step forward Tuesday with a public hearing held to gather the community’s input.
About 30 people attended the meeting held at TxDOT’s Bryan District, and the proposal to form an RMA — an entity that could help address traffic and transportation issues as the county continues to grow — received nearly unanimous support from those who spoke. In October, county commissioners authorized a petition to the Texas Transportation Commission in support of creating an RMA. TxDOT will next make a recommendation to the commission.
Elected officials at Tuesday’s hearing stressed the importance of pursuing an RMA as the county’s traffic congestion continues to compound with its population growth. A regional mobility authority is an independent local government agency that can finance, acquire, design, construct, operate, maintain, expand or extend transportation projects. As an independent local government agency, it can also facilitate the funding and implementation of projects or programs to address specific mobility needs such as congestion reduction or connectivity.
“Simply put, the time is now for the RMA,” said Precinct 3 Brazos County Commissioner Nancy Berry, who is also a former mayor of College Station. “We need this tool in our toolbox. … I don’t think anything has come before the county since I’ve been here that has this kind of support.”
The RMA would work alongside, but independent from, the 10-county TxDOT Bryan District. If approved by the Texas Transportation Commission, the RMA would be governed by a five-member board of directors. Four of the members would be appointed by the commissioners court, and the presiding officer would be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Doug Marino, director of transportation planning and development for TxDOT, said in a presentation Tuesday that RMAs can provide an increased opportunity for local jurisdictions to develop transportation facilities in their regions. More control in planning and implementation can also accelerate project delivery, he said.
RMAs don’t have taxing authority, but they can issue bonds, establish tolls, receive gifts and grants and apply for loans, among other funding sources, according to the TxDOT presentation. Because an RMA can independently generate revenue for a region’s transportation projects, Marino said, they are less dependent on competing for limited state and federal funding sources.
Counties can also enact a vehicle registration fee. Texas State Rep. John Raney’s House Bill 642, which is currently making its way through the legislature, would authorize a $10 fee on vehicle registration in the county to be used for transportation projects.
All but one of the nine people who spoke during Tuesday’s public hearing were in support of creating an RMA in Brazos County.
Dennis Christiansen, former director of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, said data suggests congestion in Brazos County is about 25 years behind that of Austin, and “we see congestion out there today that we didn’t see five years ago.”
“We have an opportunity to make some better choices than Austin did,” Christiansen said. “The RMA isn’t the silver bullet that solves all of our problems, but it does allow us to implement some projects we would not otherwise be able to do.”
According to Texas A&M Transportation Institute data, congestion has grown 6% per year in Bryan-College Station since the early 1980s. Without taking additional action, congestion is estimated to double every 12 years. The county’s population is anticipated to exceed 250,000 residents by the 2020 Census, with higher education being the main driver of growth.
Representatives from the Texas A&M University System and Texas A&M Transportation Services said those entities also support the creation of an RMA to address transportation concerns.
The one resident who spoke against the effort said he feels that transportation funding issues need to be solved at the state level. He was also opposed to toll roads as an option, which are projects that can be pursued through an RMA.
The county is required to identify an initial project to pursue as part of the RMA petition process. The proposed initial project focuses on a 1.2-mile section of University Drive adjacent to the Texas A&M University campus from Wellborn Road to Texas Avenue.
The project would include about a half-mile depressed section from Wellborn Road to just east of College Avenue that would be capped with a surface built for bicycles and pedestrians. According to Tuesday’s presentation, the objective of the project would be to improve safety and mobility by eliminating conflicts between cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles.
The seven-lane major arterial next to campus sees a high volume of several modes of transportation, and safety has been a growing concern as development occurs in the Northgate area. An estimated 45,000 to 50,000 vehicles pass through the area every day.
There were 26 vehicle-bicycle crashes there between 2003 and 2016, and 32 vehicle-pedestrian crashes. Three fatalities resulted from those incidents. TxDOT and the city of College Station have already constructed projects on University Drive totaling $11 million to address surface-level pedestrian improvements.
The comment period on the proposed RMA lasts through May 17. They can be emailed to Doug.Marino@txdot.gov or mailed to Marino at the TxDOT Bryan District office at 2591 North Earl Rudder Freeway, Bryan TX 77803.