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Gov.: DOE settlement won’t affect capital outlay

SANTA FE – Money from a landmark settlement between New Mexico and the U.S. Department of Energy will not reduce the need for state highway maintenance and repair work, according to Gov. Susana Martinez’s office.

Although more than half of the $73 million settlement the federal agency agreed to pay the state is earmarked for roads, the Governor’s Office says it would not overlap with possible funding from a capital works package for other big-ticket roadwork.

“The settlement agreement will have absolutely no bearing on the capital outlay discussions – they are completely different projects,” Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez told the Journal.

In recent weeks, top-ranking lawmakers have been in talks about a possible special legislative session to revive and approve a capital improvements bill.

A previous bill containing $264 million in projects – including $45 million for roadwork – died on the final day of this year’s 60-day session amid partisan finger-pointing and disagreements over where the road funding should come from.

If an agreement on a resurrected capital works bill is struck, a special session probably will be held within the next month, legislative leaders have said.

Funding for highway construction and maintenance has become a tricky issue for New Mexico lawmakers, as the amount of money received by the state’s road fund has declined in recent years. That has led to a backlog of roadwork.

The $73 million settlement announced last week includes roughly $46 million for roadwork in New Mexico, but those dollars will be primarily targeted at routes used to transport high-level waste between two federal facilities.

Specifically, the projects scheduled to benefit from the settlement – the largest ever between the state and DOE – are around Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, the site of a 2014 radiation leak that prompted the settlement.

One expected project is repaving and repairing a 13-mile access road to WIPP. Another likely project is expanding a road connecting Los Alamos to nearby N.M. 4, according to the formal settlement agreement.

“These (projects) were never part of capital outlay and do not, in any way, detract from the transportation needs contemplated in the original bill,” Sanchez said.

Martinez, who has the authority to call lawmakers back to Santa Fe for a special session, has said there would have to be a deal in place on the capital works bill before she would consider doing so. A special session would cost an estimated $50,000 per day.