“We want these RMAs to go away. They're a big waste of money and a second-tier bureaucracy.”
By Josh Baugh
San Antonio Express-News
The City Council on Thursday agreed to give the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority — the agency that would build toll roads in San Antonio — another year to make good on a $500,000 loan that it can't afford to repay.
Toll-road opponents, including members of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, decried the move, saying it was essentially a vote in support of toll roads.
TURF founder Terri Hall, who wasn't at the meeting, said extending the term of the five-year-old loan allows the RMA to continue to exist. She and her group are lobbying state lawmakers to repeal the law that allows regional mobility authorities to exist.
“We want these RMAs to go away,” she said. “They're a big waste of money and a second-tier bureaucracy.”
Last month, City Manager Sheryl Sculley sent a letter to RMA Executive Director Terry Brechtel asking the agency to make good on its $500,000 loan — plus interest — that was due Sept. 1. The RMA now owes $582,814.
About a week later, Brechtel sent Sculley a written response requesting an indefinite extension because the RMA has no revenue stream. Regional mobility authorities typically use toll revenue to cover their operating expenses.
“The original intent behind the loan from the City to the RMA was to provide funds ‘until such time as the Alamo RMA can obtain sufficient revenues to fund its own operations internally,'” Brechtel wrote. “At the current time, this is not possible.”
The council decided to extend the loan, but not indefinitely. It'll come due in September 2011.
Councilman Reed Williams, who has opposed toll roads, said the RMA's request wasn't unreasonable.
“I don't really think this is about tolling or no tolling,” he said of the loan extension. “This is about a bigger issue.”
Williams said he expects “the transportation structure in Texas will be radically changed in the next year,” which will give some time to find some clarity around funding issues.
The RMA also has $750,000 in loans from the county, which have compounded with interest to $883,268. Those loans, however, don't have a maturity date.
The RMA's funding comes largely from grants and loans from the Texas Department of Transportation. It's yet to build a toll project, which would produce a revenue stream, and is currently working on a couple of non-toll projects, including the superstreet on U.S. 281 and a partial interchange at Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 on the city's far North Side.
Brechtel defended the value of the RMA, saying it can use methods other agencies can't.
“We use a design-build tool that other agencies don't have available to them to advance the projects,” she said. “The best example I can think of is the interchange. We had a budget of $140 million, and through our design-build process, the interchange is being delivered to this community for $130 million.”
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