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Editorial: Lawmakers must turn these road funds around

It’s not a surprise to Albuquerque taxpayers that the federal Highway Trust Fund is almost broke.

After all, they are the ones shelling out $50 million to rebuild the Interstate 25/Paseo del Norte interchange.

It’s not a surprise to New Mexico taxpayers that the state highway fund isn’t in great shape, either.

After all, they are the ones shelling out around $30 million a year from the state road-work kitty to pay debt service on the $1 billion Rail Runner Express that runs from Santa Fe to Belen, without a whole lot of passengers.

Yet it must be a surprise to state and federal lawmakers, who to date have refused to do anything beyond using fiscal bubble gum and tape to maintain one of governments’ core responsibilities: infrastructure. Congress and the Legislature have yet to pump recurring dollars into the funds via increases in the gasoline or other taxes.

Here’s a tip: It doesn’t matter how much gasoline costs if the roads and bridges are undrivable.

Last session HB 74, sponsored by Rep. Roberto Gonzales, D-Taos, would have raised the state’s gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon for 10 years to specifically fund 10 road projects.

It didn’t make it out of committee.

That, despite the Legislature having to pump tens of millions into the state road fund every year to supplement the $380 million in revenue that can’t begin to keep up with annual road maintenance needs.

And despite a Washington, D.C.-based national transportation research organization, TRIP, revealing that “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.”

This week U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is on a multistate bus tour – the irony – trying to drive public support for President Obama’s plan to get $302 billion from corporate tax revisions to shore up the federal highway fund.

That fund is scheduled to go broke Sept. 30 and put payments for state highway projects in jeopardy – presumably including the feds’ $8 million share of Paseo.

The federal highway fund (like Medicare) has been teetering on insolvency and required what have become routine scavenger hunts for funding as fuel taxes fail to keep pace with transportation needs.

While avoiding tax increases is nice, building and maintaining roads is one of the core duties of government.

Federal and state lawmakers need to finally get their eyes on the roads their constituents depend on. And fund them.

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.