"RMAs can build roads outside the city, outside the state, and outside the country."
March 14, 2007
by Rene Leon
A heated debate on how to meet the needs of our city’s strained traffic system ended when the El Paso City Council voted to form the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority. The Council voted 5-3 to form the transportation group that would allow El Paso to complete the much needed transportation infrastructure in the next few years, rather than by the year 2030.
Voting in favor of the motion were City Representatives Susie Byrd, Steve Ortega, Ann Lilly, Presi Ortega, and Beto O’Rourke. Representatives Alex Lozano, Melina Castro, and Eddie Holguin voted nay.
Projects identified by Council and the Texas Department of Transportation that could be completed with the RMA included the Southern Relief Route that would ease congestion along I-10. Construction of the Northeast Parkway was also discussed; this would allow truck traffic to bypass I-10.
Byrd cited the need for the capacity to move international trade through our area as a key factor in supporting the formation of the RMA. “We need to facilitate trade that creates jobs and economic activity in our area,” she said. She added that communities such as Laredo and McAllen have RMAs and are taking advantage of the trade they bring to those regions.
Mayor John Cook pointed out the advantages of forming an RMA in the El Paso area. “RMAs can build roads outside the city, outside the state, and outside the country,” he said.
The City of El Paso cannot fund transportation projects outside the city limits, and the State of Texas cannot pay for roads outside state lines. But, a RMA has the ability to build projects beyond the El Paso city limits and in other states, such as New Mexico. A RMA could also enter into cooperation with Mexico to build international bridges and roadways.
Holguin questioned the need for El Paso to build roads outside of the city, to which Cook responded that they could help bring in money to the area.
Byrd joined Cook by adding that the lifeline to El Paso’s economy is in the International Bridges. “We need them,” she said.
Steve Ortega cited El Paso’s projected growth in the upcoming 25 years as a good reason to form the RMA. “A Regional Mobility Authority will finance much needed future infrastructure,” he said. “The RMA will complete needed projects by 2012 and 2013, not by 2030.”
The RMA would help to complete these projects in the coming few years by making the El Paso area transportation projects eligible for low-interest loans that are currently only available to regions with established RMAs.
Critics of the RMA told Council they believe that the Authority would abuse its powers; RMAs have the power of eminent domain and can toll roads. Critics also contend that the RMA is a mistake as its members are not appointed by voters and cannot be removed until the end of their term.
In the end, the Council voted in favor of creating the RMA and established the number of City-appointed members at 6, with a Chair being appointed by Governor Rick Perry. Three of the members will serve a one-year term, expiring February 1, 2008. The other three will serve a two-year term to end on February 1, 2009.
As the Council moved on to discuss the nominations of the six RMA members, arguments erupted between Rep. Melina Castro, who voted against the RMA, and council members who had supported it.
Castro disagreed with many of the nominees brought up for discussion by Byrd. Castro said the nominations were not discussed by the full Council. All council members were asked to submit a list of their own nominees, though not all did, to include Castro and Holguin.
“If you have objections, I’m open to hear why,” Beto O’Rourke told Castro. Castro did not bring up any objections to particular nominees.
The debate continued and the majority of Council appointed the six members to the RMA. They are David Marcus, J.O. Stewart, Anne Herkenhoff, Tanny Berg, Ralph Adame, and Dr. Tony Payan.
Mayor Cook then randomly drew lots to decide how the staggered terms would be assigned; Marcus, Hirkenhoff, and Adame each will serve a one-year term; Stewart, Berg, and Payan each will serve for two years.
Rene Leon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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