Need for Funding for Aging Roads Looms Over New Mexico

The amount of repairs and reconstruction needed for New Mexico's aging roads is far outpacing the funding available for such projects.

📅   Mon May 04, 2015 - National Edition
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The amount of repairs and reconstruction needed for New Mexico’s aging roads is far outpacing the funding available for such projects.

The state’s road fund received roughly $381 million last year, $5 million less than the year prior. Meanwhile, a national research group recently stated that just immediate road work alone amounts to $730 million, the Albuquerque Journal reported ( http://bit.ly/1QZfyhP) Friday.

Transportation officials say the road fund primarily gets money from gasoline tax revenues, which have stayed flat for the past decade. New Mexico last raised the state fuel tax in 1993 to its current rate of 17 cents per gallon. For the last 10 years, the tax revenues have reached $150 million.

”Historically, the state road fund grew at about a 3 percent rate until the 2007 recession,’ Transportation Secretary Tom Church said. ”To date, we are still below 2007 levels.’

The driving factors behind the stagnancy include motorists simply buying less gas to save money or because they own a more fuel-efficient vehicle. ”Even if we have the same level of driving every year, there is going to be less revenue because the cars are more efficient,’ said Greg Rowangould, a University of New Mexico civil engineering professor.

Almost half of the fund has gone toward covering debt incurred from older road projects as well as the Rail Runner Express commuter train. The Legislative Finance Committee said last year that the purchasing power of the fund dropped by 32 percent since 1999.

Other sources that the road fund depends on include a diesel fuel tax, a weight-distance tax imposed on large trucks and vehicle registration fees. In total last year, New Mexico received $841.6 million in funds. That number includes $373 million in federal funding.

State lawmakers say it is inevitable that New Mexico will have to find ways to increase funding for infrastructure improvements. Raising fuel taxes and using bond funding supported by tax revenue from oil and gas production are some of the suggestions that lawmakers have tossed out.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s spokesman, Michael Lonergan, said she would oppose raising the gas tax. Instead, Martinez believes the state should use existing funding sources, Lonergan said. Martinez highlighted highway infrastructure in her State of the State address in January. She wants lawmakers to funnel at least $60 million in bond money to major highway construction projects each of the next five years.

Lawmakers are hopeful they can settle on a compromise bond package that would pass during a special session. Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said such a bill would include severance-tax bonds and cash reserves for road projects.

”That enables us to live and fight another session over responsible highway and street funding in the state,’ Smith said.