While their primary project is the development of a toll road flowing throughout East Texas, NET RMA officials are apportioning some of their attention to other transportation projects, including the development of commuter rail between large metropolitan areas to the east and west.
A political subdivision formed in 2004 to support and direct transportation projects, the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority's board of directors met for their bimonthly meeting in Gladewater earlier this month, hearing among other things an update on their efforts to connect Shreveport/Bossier City to Dallas
According to Celia Boswell of Mineola, the rail committee she chairs for NET RMA has secured a Memorandum of Understanding with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and is assured of the same agreement with both the City of Shreveport and the City of Bossier City toward linking the two population centers via, most likely, the Interstate 20 corridor.
"We can't put a date on that, but it would be a mutual effort. It's one of the long-term goals of the NET RMA. That was an important component for us, since we cross state lines to get that," she said. "We have an MOU with Dallas Dart. We have an MOU on the other end with Shreveport/Bossier.
"Since we are, after all, a regional transportation authority, this would make us more complete. We want to be more than just toll roads."
During their July meeting, the organization's board of directors approved their request that officials in Gregg and Upshur counties consider the establishment of Transportation Reinvestment Zones toward the ongoing development of Segment 7 of Toll 49. That portion of the so-called 'East Texas Hourglass' is the closest part of the looping roadway (criss-crossing Smith, Gregg, Harrison and Upshur counties) to pass near to Kilgore.
Currently, the hourglass route includes 26.3 miles in Smith County, skirting the City of Tyler from I-20 near Hideaway Lake about three miles west of U.S. 69 at Lindale, continuing south and east to Hwy. 110 near Whitehouse. As planned, NET RMA's plans take the loop back into Gregg County to cross I-20 and turn east north of Longview, heading toward Marshall.
Recent projections indicate the I-20 crossing in Gregg County could be ideally situated close to Liberty City (rather than the original crossing near Joy-Wright Mountain Road).
"At this point, our initial project, our main project, of course is the Toll Road 49 around Tyler. It started on the east side of Tyler and it now goes into Interstate 20 on the west side," NET RMA Chair Linda Thomas said. "Our organization is actually a pass-through of funds. We're a tolling entity -- we have the ability to toll roads. But you can't toll existing roads."
In addition to approving their budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014, at their Sept. 10 meeting the group authorized multiple agreements for general engineering consultant services and project development services for their current and future initiatives.
According to Thomas, since the Toll 49 project's inception, NET RMA has pooled its resources for initial funding of its toll operations while the Texas Department of Transportation performed traffic, revenue and environmental studies to determine the project's feasibility.
"It has to do with the population of the area, and they have ways of tracking traffic through the area, industry, that kind of thing," she explained. "The beauty of the RMA is the toll road dues that come -- which are coming in now -- we receive the road originally owned by TxDOT.
"They turned the road over to the RMA at the end of March. Now the tolls from the road come into the RMA. That gives the RMA the ability to operate. As the tolls come in, that money can remain in East Texas to further the project."
After retiring certain debts, the authority had enough money left over to begin studies on the development of the next section of the East Texas Hourglass, Thomas noted. While the official route is not set in stone, the northern turn to the east is probably the most feasible to develop moving forward.