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In picking a new CTRMA rep, Travis County goes with a familiar face

Wednesday, January 31, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

The Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday chose an old hand to be its newest representative on the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s board of directors.

In a unanimous vote, the court awarded the seat to attorney John Langmore, a former vice chair of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board. Langmore most recently served the county as the vice chair of the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee, which produced last year’s pair of successful bond referendums.

Langmore will replace Charles Heimsath, the real estate consultant who had first been elevated to the CTRMA board in 2009. The Commissioners Court also voted unanimously to keep attorney David Armbrust in the seat he has held since 2012.

Travis County has three seats on the CTRMA board, matched by another three picks from Williamson County. A seventh member, the chair, is appointed by the governor. Travis County’s third seat, currently occupied by attorney Nikelle Meade, was not up for grabs this year.

The decision to put Langmore on the board comes at a time when animosity against toll roads in general is gaining political traction, and frustration with the CTRMA and its handling of, among other things, the MoPac Improvement Project is still simmering.

Before the court considered Langmore, Commissioner Brigid Shea motioned to appoint Amy Pattillo, another one of the six applicants for the two board seats. Pattillo, a former member of the Rollingwood City Council and outspoken critic of the CTRMA’s since-scuttled proposal to greatly expand MoPac Expressway south of Lady Bird Lake, had positioned herself as a “consumer-oriented” watchdog of the authority’s operations.

Commissioner Jeff Travillion seconded Shea’s motion, which was then opposed by commissioners Gerald Daugherty and Margaret Gómez. Refraining from casting the tiebreaking vote, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt asked for a subsequent motion. Gómez offered Langmore’s name, which drew a second from Daugherty, who explained that while Pattillo was “a great candidate,” her past opposition to the MoPac South project was a bridge too far for him.

“I can say this because of how outspoken I am about a few things as it relates to transportation,” he said. “But you do get yourself in a little bit of a box when you become known as such a strong cheerleader for or against something in particular. And it hurt her a little bit for me in that place alone.”

Before the vote, Shea raised concerns about Langmore’s assertion during his interview on Thursday that the state law that governs regional mobility authorities – a law he helped write as the policy director for the Texas House of Representatives Transportation Committee in 2003 precludes those entities from operating transit systems.

That claim raised the hackles of activists who see the CTRMA’s unique financial tools as a possible mechanism for funding high-dollar transit projects.

Eckhardt attempted to clarify by saying, “RMAs, under the statute, are not able to operate transit when there is another authority already designated in the region, which is what he was alluding to.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, she further clarified to reporters, “The CTRMA does have broad authority but there are other authorities that come into play that you have to be in partnership with in order to make transit work in our region.”

Indeed, the statute states that “an authority may not provide mass transit services in the service area of another transit provider … unless the service is provided under a written agreement with the transit provider.”

Langmore himself acknowledged to the Austin Monitor on Tuesday afternoon that the law does, in theory, allow the CTRMA to operate transit service in the Austin region so long as the mobility authority could secure Capital Metro’s permission to do so. However, he added, “That’s not something that’s going to happen in Capital Metro’s service territory, I wouldn’t think. No one’s going to broach that subject in the foreseeable future.”

Nonetheless, he said the CTRMA should not consider that as a reason to continue to focus exclusively on toll roads while ignoring potential partnerships with Capital Metro, the Capital Area Rural Transportation System, and other area agencies and jurisdictions. The authority currently has an arrangement with Capital Metro to allow buses to use the new MoPac express lanes for free and is in the process of exploring potential park-and-ride options for the agency’s use along area toll roads.

“Are you kidding me? To me, it’s like, the CTRMA should kick that door wide open,” he insisted. “(The CTRMA) was definitely envisioned at its outset to be able to offer multiple modes of transportation to deal with mobility issues. That was absolutely the mindset in the creation of RMAs.”

While Pattillo was her first choice, Shea ended up voting for Langmore and told the Monitor that she believed he will be a fine representative for the county. However, she pledged to continue to push the authority to be more accountable to residents who use its facilities and to its nominal raison d’être.

“If you create the entity with a broad mandate to do a range of multimodal transportation, then the entity should do that,” she said. “And in my mind, it doesn’t count to ‘do transit’ because they’re allowing buses to ride for free only on the toll lanes on North MoPac. It’s like, they didn’t do transit. They’re just not charging buses.”

Photo of Langmore courtesy of LinkedIn.

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