May 27, 2019 - TRA Newswire -

Governor Greg Abbott has signed into law House Bill 71 that creates a regional transit authority (RTA) in the Rio Grande Valley.

The bill, authored by Texas Representative Armando "Mando" Martinez (Weslaco), creates a regional transit authority in  Hidalgo, Cameron, and
Willacy counties that can develop public transit options. RTAs have been formed in other areas of the state and have proven essential in providing efficient transportation services to the public. As the Rio Grande Valley continues to grow at one of the fastest paces in the country, let alone the state, there is a need for regional oversight and coordination of public transit services, according to the bill. It includes the cities of  Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen, McAllen, Weslaco and includes South Padre Island.

Texas Rail Advocates has been supportive of the bill and commends the legislature and the Governor for their action.

H.B. 71 amends current law relating to the creation of regional transit authorities; grants the power of eminent domain; provides authority to issue bonds and charge fees. It would create an "executive committee" to serve as the governing body of the authority. It would authorize an authority to leverage funds with a municipality that provides public transportation services to finance, acquire, construct, develop, plan, own, operate, and maintain a public transportation system in the territory of the authority.

The Rio Grande Valley RTA is in good company. Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Corpus, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Laredo and Denton all have regional transit authorities. Martinez said that the RGV authority is modeled after Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART).

Representative Martinez was quoted in the Rio Grande Guardian in March when the bill was heard in Austin.

Martinez said the goal of the RTA is to “better coordinate, develop and maintain all types of mass transit, bus and rail, and to plan and develop passenger light rail in the Rio Grande Valley.” However, Martinez said the bill is just a planning shell. “The elected officials and transit experts will decide how it runs.” The bill, Martinez said, would allow municipal bus providers such as those operating in Brownsville, McAllen and South Padre Island, to still operate their lines. Martinez pointed out that Valley Metro, which is administered by the LRGVDC, has partnered with UT-Rio Grande Valley. “Those lines will continue to operate in the same way they currently do,”. Martinez said a frequent question comes up: who runs the RTA. “It would be the executive committee of the LRGVDC, which is the local council of government, made up of elected officials from all three counties.