“The move marks the first time that an RMA in Texas has grown to include counties outside its founding sponsors.”
July 07, 2006
It was standing room only in the Longview Partnership Briefing Center on Thursday as the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority welcomed its four newest member counties.
The Texas Transportation Commission approved the addition of Harrison, Upshur, Rusk and Cherokee counties to the mobility group, which formerly consisted of founding counties Gregg and Smith. Board members agreed to ask for a $5,000 pledge to the RMA's annual budget from each of the founding counties, both of which have three representatives on the board. The remaining counties, which will have one representative each, were asked for $1,500 contributions.
The move marks the first time that an RMA in Texas has grown to include counties outside its founding sponsors. The mobility authority was created to work with the Texas Department of Transportation in leveraging available funds to advance highway, rail, transit, aviation and other transportation projects in the area, according to recent a NET-RMA press release.
Panola and Bowie counties also have shown interest in joining the mobility authority, said TxDOT Atlanta District Area Engineer Bob Ratcliff.
Titus County recently passed a bond for a $120 million project for pass-through tolling of the proposed U.S. 271 bypass and two FM roads to the south and east of Mount Pleasant. Ratcliff said commissioners there have not discussed joining the RMA because Titus County is outside the Trans-Texas Corridor 69 area — which could navigate parallel to or include parts of U.S. 59 — but projects there could tie in with the corridor and the NET-RMA's efforts.
"The road fairy doesn't come and stick a tooth under your pillow just because you joined the RMA," TxDOT Tyler District Engineer Randy Redmond said. "For you new counties coming in, ask why Smith County is getting closer with Loop 49."
Loop 49, which will serve as Tyler's outer loop, will open its first leg — between U.S. 69 and Texas 155 in South Tyler — in mid-August. Construction has begun on the loop's second phase, and environmental and revenue studies are in the works for Loop 49's western leg toward Lindale.
After a month or so of free usage by drivers, Loop 49 will become a tollway that officials say will generate revenue to fund other transportation projects in the region.
"It is important to get (Loop 49's first leg) opened soon," Chairman Jeff Austin III said. "It will have bearings on the rest of the system."
Board member Jeff Warr said that all projects within the NET-RMA are equally important, saying that they will hopefully fall into place like dominoes.
"We want to make sure that you understand that you're just as important as those people who were here the first day," said Warr, an original board member. "We want to make sure that we're on the right way legally, financially because we are stewards of the public's money."
The authority has a cash balance of $9,391 with no liabilities, although bills for legal counsel and consultation services are upcoming, Finance Chairman Tab Beall reported.
In other business, mobility officials have yet to secure a consultant to oversee work studies on the expansion of Texas 42 between White Oak and Kilgore, but TxDOT Tyler District official Mike Battles said he has been assured that one is "forthcoming soon."
A consultant is needed to begin analyzing the corridor and get a cost estimate for widening the two-lane highway, bordered by numerous oil leases and flood plain, to an urban five-lane road.
Battles said a possible project for an express or high-occupancy lane on Interstate 20 through East Texas is being discussed among the Tyler, Atlanta and Dallas transportation districts. The lane would be tolled while the existing lanes of traffic would remain free.
Austin said he will send a letter to Tyler District Area Engineer Mary Owen on behalf of the NET-RMA to procure an abandoned rail line between Whitehouse and Troup. The route could become a strategic corridor for the RMA under a potential transfer. Possible uses include converting it into a walking, hiking or bicycle trail.
© 2006 Longview News-Journal: