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Editorial: Gas-tax increase must fuel NM road projects

Sure, it goes without saying that nobody likes a tax increase. But nobody should like driving on an unsafe road or functionally obsolete bridge, either.

That’s why a proposal to increase the state’s gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon for 10 years to specifically fund 10 road projects deserves serious consideration.

Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Taos, is chairman of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee. His HB 74 would target the new gas-tax monies to traditional road construction. Gonzales explains he’s “always felt that I’d rather be criticized for trying than not trying. We’re in a position that we have to do something.”

That “position,” according to a new analysis by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based national transportation research organization, is “23 percent of (New Mexico’s) major locally and state maintained urban roads are in poor condition, and approximately one in six of New Mexico’s locally and state maintained bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”

The group also points out “New Mexico’s traffic fatality rate is significantly higher than the national average.”

Unlike previous road-fund raids that have financed non-road projects – the state Department of Transportation still takes around $30 million a year from the state road fund to pay debt service on the ill-advised $1 billion Rail Runner that runs from Santa Fe to Belen – Gonzales’ plan lists 10 highway projects from Las Cruces to Farmington that would repair and/or expand the interstates that criss-cross the state.

Building and maintaining roads is one of the core duties of government. Lawmakers should resist the knee-jerk reaction a new tax can provoke – and the temptation to open up what it could be used for – and invest gas-tax money in the state’s highways. We’re stuck with the Rail Runner, which was a bad investment given any possible return. But we can’t use that lament as an excuse not to fix what needs fixin’.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.