The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has recently postponed many projects by a decade or more due to lack of funds.

“For 2013, there is zero funding for new roads or new transportation issues in the State of Texas,” said Orange County Commissioner Precinct 4 Jody Crump. “Through the Regional Mobility Authority’s approval legislature, some laws have been enacted and changed, modified and edited through a course of time. What it does is it affords counties opportunities to use different funding streams to leverage future tax base dollars and things like that.” Crump said they have had some meetings with TxDOT and other counties that were very informative and peeked some interest in what RMAs can do.

Duane Gordy, chairman and CEO of Community Development Education Foundation educated commissioners in a public hearing about Regional Mobility Authorities.

“The way TxDOT is structured; they are sort of limited in providing [education]. What they can do with education, they say, ‘Here are the tools. Here are the pieces and this is what the law says about it.’ What TxDOT can’t do is say here is the specific application for the tools you need.”

A Regional Mobility Authority is an autonomous body that can raise money and build road projects in ways that are not possible for TxDOT.

Gordy said, “This is being pushed now, even though it was created a decade ago because TxDOT is moving toward an administrative role. TxDOT knows that they are funding blocked to cover the upcoming county road systems so far down the chain it’s not even worth discussing.” Texas has a $300 billion hole in transportation funding.

RMAs would be like mini-TxDOTs said Gordy.

It was suggested that Orange County join with Jefferson and Hardin County to form a local Mobility Authority to continue construction needed in the very near future, but TxDOT would not be able to get to until 10 to 15 years down the road. Gordy specifically mentioned part of Interstate 69 in Lumberton which will be heavily used by lumber trucks for several years. The next phase of the Interstate 10 project in Orange has also been put on hold by the state. Both projects could be completed by the authority.

Gordy said the organization would be an independent body and debt taken on by the organization would not be part of a county’s debt.

Counties would appoint the members of the committee and the governor would appoint the chairman. There would be no elected officials in the organization.

Gordy did mention that as an autonomous body it would be able to exercise eminent domain but that controller constraints can be put in place before it is created to cover that issue and others. If constraints were not put in place before the creation of the authority, they could not be put in place later.

The authority would own and maintain the roads they build. Money for building the roads can be recouped through tolls.

Commissioners agreed to study the matter further.

On a different project, Clark Slacum, county engineer, informed commissioners TxDOT will take on the project of repairing and refurbishing the swing bridge on East Roundbunch in Bridge City.

Commissioner Precinct 1 David Dubose remarked that TxDOT was out of money, but they’re going to fix the bridge? Slacum said the work will be done as part of their off road system funds which is different funding. That project has an estimated cost of $18.4 million of which the county has to match 10 percent. The 10 percent match can be other projects the county has planned which include: replacing large culverts and wooden bridges on other streets, most of which are in Precinct 3. Ike round 2.2 funds can be used to do that work meaning the entire project will be no actual cost to the county.

“This is really a good win-win situation for us,” said Slacum.

The county projects will be completed in the next two or three years, depending on which deadline it falls under.

In other business, Lynda Gunstream, tax assessor-collector informed commissioners $5.6 million in tax revenues was collected in December and 26 percent of all taxes have been collected so far this fiscal year.

Jeff Kelley, emergency management coordinator said gas has been turned on at the Orange County Convention and Expo Center. The heating and cooling system is in the process of being tested. Expected move in is during March. New Commissioner Precinct 3 John Banken will join Mark Wimberley, Lisa Reeves, Bobby Fillyaw, Connie Cassidy, Paula Tacker and Jeff Kelley on a committee which will make recommendations to commissioners’ court on rental fees, operating guidelines, Web-site operations and general policy associated with the operations of the OC Convention and Expo Center.

Next week commissioners’ court will be held at 10 a.m., Tuesday due to a Monday holiday.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.