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State bonds being considered for highway projects

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Under a new approach to keep up with an aging road system, New Mexico voters could get the opportunity this fall to decide whether to use state bonds to pay for highway projects.

A bill introduced this week would authorize $49 million in general obligation bonds – if approved by voters in November – for construction and maintenance of roads around the state.

“You can go anywhere in the state, and there’s dire needs everywhere” when it comes to roads, said Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, the bill’s sponsor.

The legislation, Senate Bill 94, does not specify which projects would receive funding.

Rather, Cisneros said, it would be up to the state Department of Transportation to decide how the $49 million is spent, though the money would have to be divvied up equally among the state’s six transportation districts.

“The politics would play extreme to where the road would be” if projects were to be specified in the bill, Cisneros said this week.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation did not immediately respond Friday to a question about how projects might be chosen.

However, one project that could be selected for funding under the bill is an extension of Paseo de Volcan NW, which backers have long envisioned as a 30-mile loop road connecting Interstate 40 on the west side of Albuquerque to U.S. 550 in Bernalillo.

Historically, general obligation bonds have been issued for three other types of projects – higher-education facilities, senior centers and libraries. Those projects would also still receive funding under this year’s bill, which would authorize about $165 million in all.

Road projects have typically been included in a separate infrastructure bill, the annual “pork” bill, which uses bonds backed by future severance tax revenue to pay for bridges, dams, ballfields and other types of public works projects.

One recent project that got such state funds was the Paseo del Norte/Interstate 25 interchange, a $93 million makeover that upgraded a critical link between Albuquerque’s east and west sides.

Gov. Susana Martinez has in the past called on lawmakers to set aside money for highway repair and construction projects around New Mexico.

In her State of the State address earlier this week, Martinez suggested lawmakers should allocate more money for “large-scale” infrastructure projects, though she did not specifically address using general obligation bonds for highway construction and repairs.

“No more doling out state capital funds on pork projects,” the two-term Republican governor said. “Instead, let’s spend those funds on rebuilding the foundation of our economy.”