A bill that would provide money for incomplete road construction projects is moving through committees at the Roundhouse. The measure is concurrent with a study showing New Mexico's roads and bridges are in poor condition.
Throughout most of her 13 years serving in the Legislature Democratic Representative Patty Lundstrom of Gallup has sponsored highway-related bills. This year HB 410 is aimed at taking one-quarter of the four-percent excise tax paid on every car purchase and putting it in a highway project fund. Over time the state transportation commission would issue bonds and repay them from the fund. Representative Lundstrom says the initial $50-million from excise taxes would be used to complete languishing road projects in all parts of the state:
"We see that we don't have enough maintenance money in the north as an example, and that's the money that pays for snow removal. Well that's a big deal up here. But maybe down in the Las Cruces area or Deming area they don't need as much, but they need other things. So we're leaving it up to each one of the district engineers to identify those key projects, because it's what they need in their area, and it would be statewide."
Lundstrom adds that each project would mean jobs that could help ease the state's depressed jobs market, especially in construction. Also released this week is a report from a Washington, DC-based nonprofit transportation research group called TRIP. It found that more than 21-percent of the state's major roads need improvement, and that 16-percent of bridges in New Mexico need repair or replacement. Report author Carolyn Kelly says driving on rough roads collectively costs drivers millions each year in maintenance, especially in urban areas:
"In the Albuquerque area 44-percent of major roads are in either poor or mediocre condition, costing the average driver there an additional $392 each year; and in Santa Fe, where 33-percent of the roads are in need of repair, the average driver's costs total an additional $310 each year."
Representative Roberto "Bobby" Gonzales, chairman of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee, also wants to fund road improvements. He says he will add an amendment to the capitol outlay bill once it is introduced that would add $12-million from the general fund for road equipment for the Department of Transportation's six state districts. Calls to Governor Martinez were not immediately returned.
But Senate Minority Floor Leader Republican Stuart Ingles had this to say about the transportation bill:
“I do not support raising taxes, but I will take a look at diverting a small portion of the vehicle sales tax to the road fund because fixing our crumbling roads is vital to public safety and to economic developmentthroughout our entire state.”