Suburbanites in Texas may soon have new ways to get around. The state legislature recently approved a bill that will allow suburban counties to create their own mass transit authorities.

Residents of counties with populations greater than 1 million will have to vote to create the authorities through the ballot initiative process. Voters would also have to approve any new taxes. Once they are created, however, the mass transit authorities will be eligible to compete for federal funds.

No one expects a sudden flourishing of light rail lines across suburban Texas, but even a few well-planned bus lines would go a long way toward alleviating traffic in the booming state. "The suburban counties are floundering now because we don't have the money to build roads fast enough," says state Representative Burt Solomons, the bill's sponsor.

Suburban towns had already been able to join urban transit systems, such as Dallas Area Rapid Transit. But having "fingers" stretch out from the urban core to selected suburban locations has not provided much relief from intracounty congestion. Also, the urban systems required multimillion-dollar equity payments from localities signing up. (The bill requires that suburbs that have previously joined with urban systems pay any outstanding debt obligations before opting out.)

Under the new plan, suburban localities will have more control over planning decisions. But Solomons hopes they will coordinate closely with existing city systems. His model for the legislation was European mass transit, in which separately operated systems link up seamlessly, moving people across numerous political boundaries.