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5 things to know about the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority
Austin American Statesman Editorial Board
September 4, 2016 (updated September 2018)
The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is the leader in building transportation systems in Travis and Williamson counties. Many Central Texans know of the authority’s role in building toll roads — such as 183-A and U.S. 290 East — and issuing toll tags, but are unaware of its functions beyond that. Here are some facts to know:
An independent government agency: The CTRMA was established in 2002, following passage of state law in 2001. It has no taxing authority but does have condemnation power. For fiscal year 2015, the mobility authority’s operating revenue totaled $55,814,033; expenses were $38,135,309. Since its inception, CTRMA’s assets have grown from zero to $1.8 billion. To finance toll road construction, expansion of traffic lanes on existing roads or other projects aimed at improving transportation, the agency raises most of its income — 70 percent — from the private sector by selling investment bonds on the stock market. The debt is repaid primarily through income from tolls. The remaining 30 percent comes from public sources, primarily the Texas Department of Transportation.
A governing board dominated by men, and business and development interests: CTRMA’s board has seven members, of which three are appointed by the Travis County Commissioners Court and three are appointed by the Williamson County Commissioners Court. The chair is appointed by the governor. There is one African-American woman on the board; the other six board members are white men. The board has been criticized for having no advocates that come from the environmental, public transit, bicycle or pedestrian communities.
Offers free roadside assistance and travel apps: The authority runs the Highway Emergency Response Operator, called HERO, for stranded motorists along U.S. 183 and Interstate 35, which helps keep traffic moving. In 2015, HERO assisted 14,480 stranded motorists, doing things such as removing debris from travel lanes and relocating disabled vehicles to safety to changing tires and delivering water to stranded motorists while they waited for tow trucks.
Metropia is a smartphone app to alleviate traffic congestion by incentivizing users to make trips at off-peak times. The agency also has a ridesharing app, CARMA, which connects drivers with similar commutes.
Pays its executive director more than the Texas Department of Transportation chief earns: The CTRMA governing board approved a 2016 compensation package of $366,112 for agency chief Mike Heiligenstein. That includes a base salary of $274,912, deferred compensation of $45,000, annual life insurance premiums of $3,000 and a monthly car allowance of $850. In all, the agency has 21 employees. The board used a national salary survey by consultant BDO to help determine Heiligenstein’s compensation. Heiligenstein has been with the agency since it began.
By contrast, the executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation earns a salary of $299,812, but receives no additional compensation, according to a department spokesperson. The agency has 11,775 full-time employees.
Responsible for the MoPac Improvement Project: The traffic nightmare will continue through most of this year on North MoPac Boulevard. The project, which adds a toll lane along the inside median on each side of the highway from West Cesar Chavez Street to Parmer Lane, was supposed to be completed last year. Relief starts in June, when a section of the northbound lane is expected to open. All lanes are expected to open in late November. Costs total $200 million for the entire 11-mile project. The project’s express toll lanes, open to all commuters by December, are expected to steer drivers and buses clear of congestion on MoPac’s regular lanes, which will continue as free lanes.