- Associated Press - Monday, January 28, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A sizable portion of New Mexico’s projected budget surplus would be funneled to road projects under proposals by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a key legislative committee.

The state is on track to end the current budget year in June with a surplus of more than $1.2 billion due to surging oil production. Between $300 million and $400 million of that could be included in an annual infrastructure bill sponsored by Sen. Carlos Cisneros to repair roads and make improvements in areas that are overwhelmed, the Albuquerque Journal reported Monday.

The projects could include reconstructing a heavily trafficked oilfield route in Eddy County and building a new interstate interchange near Los Lunas. A third traffic lane on Interstate 25 between Bernalillo and Santa Fe could also be an option.

It would be up to the state transportation department to decide which projects receive funding, with a focus on projects with the potential to create economic growth.

“This is a one-time opportunity we have to take advantage of,” said Cisneros, a Democrat.

Everything is on the table, said Michael Sandoval, Lujan Grisham’s pick to lead the department of transportation.

“We just need to be really smart and strategic about choosing the projects,” he said.

Some lawmakers are already advocating for road funding in a state that has identified more than $1 billion in road repair needs.

Republican Rep. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad said much of the available budget surplus should go toward roadwork in southeastern New Mexico, where the oil boom is concentrated.

“People are upset that the state hasn’t put more money into the region,” she said. “There needs to be some reinvestment.”

She said increased traffic on area roads - including numerous trucks hauling oilfield equipment - regularly leads to delays and has created public safety problems.

The state typically finances road projects either by issuing bonds or pulling from a state road fund that gets its money from fees and taxes, including a gasoline tax. New Mexico also receives federal dollars for highway construction projects.

New Mexico has struggled to keep up with maintenance on more than 30,000 miles (48,280 kilometers) of roadways in recent years, in part because more fuel-efficient vehicles have led to lower tax collections.

“We recognize there are a multitude of roads in dire need,” Cisneros said.

The Legislative Finance Committee has proposed using roughly $400 million of the surplus for statewide road projects. Lujan Grisham has recommended $300 million.

Sandoval said a big down payment from this year’s surplus would not be a fix-all for New Mexico’s roads. He specifically mentioned the infrastructure needs in oil country and said roads statewide will require future maintenance.

Lawmakers also are considering increasing the gasoline tax to address future road repair needs. The Lujan Grisham administration hasn’t said whether it would support such an increase.


Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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