The Texas Transportation Commission gave formal approval for the creation of a Brazos County Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) midday Thursday in Austin following testimony from two members of the county’s Commissioners Court.
The RMA — an entity that area lawmakers believe will help address traffic and transportation issues as the county’s population continues to grow — has enjoyed widespread support from lawmakers in the county. However, a bill that would have empowered the county to enact a fee to help raise funds failed to pass in the just-ended 86th Texas legislative session.
“I’m elated,” Brazos County Judge Duane Peters said in a telephone interview after the commission’s unanimous vote. Peters and Precinct 3 Commissioner Nancy Berry spoke at the hearing in Austin in favor of the project.
“It is a tool that we needed, and I’m very happy that the commission chose to approve it,” Peters said. “It opens us up to be able to go for grant funds and other funding sources that we couldn’t go after without an RMA.”
House Bill 642, which was sponsored by Texas Rep. John Raney, would have authorized a $10 fee on vehicle registration in Brazos County. The bill received Texas House approval but died in a Senate committee after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick expressed that RMAs would not receive approval, multiple officials said.
A regional mobility authority is an independent local government agency with authority to finance, acquire, design, construct, operate and 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.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Steve Aldrich expressed gratitude for Raney and Rep. Kyle Kacal’s efforts to support the RMA’s creation and funding, and said the effort was a collective one, with several county officials and entities lending support.
Aldrich and Peters each said that the county would brainstorm and seek other methods of funding for the RMA.
The county submitted its official petition in November and had a May 7 hearing, at which about 30 people attended. The Eagle reported May 8 that nine people spoke at the community input session, with eight speaking in favor and one in opposition. The person against the RMA cited toll roads as one reason for opposition. Aldrich said Thursday evening that though the RMA could pursue tollways, no conversations about toll roads in Brazos County have happened to date.
The governor will appoint the RMA board’s chairperson, and the Commissioners Court selects the other four members. Dennis Christiansen, director emeritus of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, said that the county’s proposal states that the cities of Bryan and College Station would each recommend one person, with Texas A&M recommending another. Christiansen said elected officials and government employees cannot be selected to lead the RMA.
Christiansen said that large-scale transportation projects at times include coordinating large number of different jurisdictions and organizations. “The RMA is ideally suited to be the organization to put all that together and make it work,” he said.
The county was 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.
College Station Mayor Karl Mooney said Wednesday afternoon that the RMA would help the area now and in the future. He also expressed disappointment that HB 642 did not make it through the state legislature.
“We’re not talking just about stuff that’s decades down the road,” Mooney said. “There is no doubt that 10 years from now, the roadways in College Station will be more congested. What the state has now done is to push some of those issues so they will be greater for us to try and manage and handle in a much more difficult way.”
He pointed out that many of the major roads running through Bryan-College Station metro area are state highways.
“Texas Avenue is a state highway,” Mooney said. “University Drive is a state highway. Wellborn is a state highway. George Bush Drive is a state highway. 2818 is a state highway. Our major feeder roads for getting anywhere in our community are state-owned roads, but the state is unable to provide the funding necessary to address that we have. So here we are, trying to do the responsible thing, and the state is putting a roadblock on it.”
Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson also wrote a letter of support for the RMA petition, signed last July 12. “We are in full support of the efforts to identify a means to address our transportation infrastructure challenges. An RMA has the potential to be part of that solution,” he wrote last year.