ICYMI: Roads to Nowhere, Texas’ local transportation agencies spend at least $1 billion in tax money with little to show for it (DMN)
ICYMI, Senate Bill 1184 passed in the Senate on Monday. This is a huge step in the right direction for you, the taxpayers of Texas. Senate Bill 1184 will bring oversight and accountability to Regional Mobility Authorities. All forms of government must have checks and balances and this will help give us a better understanding of how RMAs spend taxpayer dollars. This will help institute more efficient practices for RMAs, and will lead to greater transparency and oversight as we increase funding for transportation infrastructure.
Senate Bill 1184 passed right after a recent Dallas Morning News investigative report showed that RMAs have spent over a billion of taxpayer dollars with little oversight. Please take the time to read this article about Regional Mobilty Authorities in Texas. Below is the beginning of the article, which I hope will be enough to encourage you to support auditing RMAs.
Roads to Nowhere: Texas’ local transportation agencies spend at least $1 billion in tax money with little to show for it
DENISON — Grayson County authorities wanted to extend the Dallas North Tollway to Oklahoma and keep the lucrative toll dollars in their own community.
The result six years later: at least $2.2 million in state funds spent, but no toll road.
In Tyler, local officials in 2004 vowed to build a $248 million outer loop to absorb traffic and rake in tolls from a county of about 220,000 people.
The result: Slightly more than half of the beltway is completed. But the state wrote off a $55 million loan that was supposed to be repaid with toll dollars.
In San Antonio, authorities pushed to build 50 miles of toll lanes stretching across the traffic-choked north side of Bexar County.
The result 11 years later: zero miles completed. Flawed planning and bloated administrative costs led to a complete overhaul of the agency in charge.
That agency is a regional mobility authority; a locally based transportation agency that can’t levy taxes and isn’t run by elected officials.
Counties, including Grayson and Smith, set up regional mobility authorities to use bonds to build transportation projects and pay them off with tolls. The theory is that the tolls stay home, boosting area economies.
But nearly 15 years after the Texas Legislature changed state law so the agencies could be created, most of the nine RMAs have struggled to live up to their ambitions while burning through at least $1 billion in tax dollars, an investigation by The Dallas Morning News has found.
The RMAs have spent at least $220 million on overhead costs, and not all RMAs have been audited, according to The News’ analysis. They’ve spent about $864 million in state and federal funds, despite the Texas Legislature originally hoping the projects would be financed almost exclusively by tolls.
Some have completed no roadway projects at all. Others have spent millions on projects that critics have said are unnecessary, such as planning for a toll road through a residential neighborhood of Brownsville.
In some cases, RMAs have financed projects by siphoning off tax dollars from elsewhere, not by using tolls.
Several projects, including high-profile toll roads, moved forward because the Texas Department of Transportation bankrolled them, with the RMAs playing minor roles because some had challenges obtaining bond money to build them.
The local agencies have spent at least $260 million in state funds, according to audit reports. (Some RMAs did not provide The News with audits for all years.)
Other projects were completed because the Obama administration poured federal dollars into Texas as part of the national effort to pump up the ailing economy. The total of federal funds spent, much of it “stimulus” dollars, is at least $604 million.