State OKs regional mobility authority

Group could help speed up expansion projects on State Highways 11, 154

From Staff Reports

June 29, 2007 - The state's highway agency has given the OK to a "regional mobility authority" that can speed up highway and other transportation projects in Hopkins County and three adjoining counties.

The Texas Transportation Commission today announced the formation of the Sulphur River Regional Mobility Authority (SURRMA), which represents Delta, Hopkins, Hunt and Lamar counties.

The four counties were already affiliated in the North East Texas Mobility Council, a group that promotes area transportation issues.

But a regional mobility authority, or RMA, can do a lot more than just talk about road projects — they have a stronger voice in what transportation projects are approved by the state, are eligible for special state funding, and can accrue debt for long-range projects.

�The Northeast Texas region has stepped up to meet the transportation challenge,� said Michael Behrens, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, in a prepared release. �They are taking more control over their transportation future by accelerating road and rail projects vital to the region.�

RMAs can get projects started sooner and built with more local control. Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell has described RMAs as something akin to " a mini-TxDoT."

"We can set our own priorities regionally," he said in November after being named to a subcomittee to help create the four-county Regional Mobility Authority . "We would have a lot of say in our projects."

Projects the group has identified for Hopkins County include expansioin of State Highway 11 from Sulphur Springs to Commerce, such as widening the road and adding shoulders. Improvements to the railroad line owned by the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District, which runs from Titus County well into Hunt County and could someday link up with a Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex rail system, is another project that could benefit from the RMA's formation.  Widening State Highway 154 to the Wood County line has also been discussed.

Initially, the Sulphur River Regional Mobility Authority will focus on completing the expansion of State Highway 24 from Commerce to Paris.  SURRMA is proposing to develop, design and construct a $32 million, 10 mile expansion project using a pass-through financing agreement.

Through a pass-through financing agreement, the regional mobility authority would fund the upfront project costs. Then, the state would partially reimburse the authority over time by paying a fee for each vehicle that drives on the new highway. To be considered for a pass-through financing agreement, the authority will submit an application to Texas Department of Transportation.

Other projects the SURRMA has identified include the expansion of U.S. Highway 271 in Lamar County from Pattonville to the Red River County line, and U.S. Highway 82 from Paris to the Fannin County line. Also proposed is a  new route from Interstate 30 to Floyd, a community located about five miles west of Greenville on U.S. Highway 380.

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