Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico has pieced together about $8.7 million in state and federal money to buy land for Paseo del Volcan – a proposed 30-mile expressway that would cross a vast swath of Albuquerque’s West Mesa.
Most of that money – about $8 million – is earmarked to purchase 82 acres for a proposed interchange at Interstate 40 and Paseo del Volcan about two miles west of Atrisco Vista Boulevard, at the doorstep of the fiercely debated Santolina development.
Land purchases at the proposed interchange “will begin very soon,” likely within the next few months, Transportation Secretary Tom Church said. “The process is beginning.”
Officials say that completion of Paseo del Volcan remains decades away and that the money for land acquisition is only a down payment for the loop road.
A report commissioned last year by Albuquerque estimated construction costs of $62 million to build a two-lane road from N.M. 550 in Rio Rancho to I-40. Right-of-way acquisition would add $34 million to the cost.
“At this point, all we’re doing is purchasing right of way,” Church said, noting the state has budgeted no money for construction of Paseo del Volcan. “The funding for this project is a long, long way off. It’s a huge project and it’s way out in the future.”
The Federal Highway Administration will provide about $6 million, together with $633,000 in state matching funds, most earmarked for the interchange, according to the Mid-Region Council of Governments.
State lawmakers also included more than $2 million in severance-tax bond funding for land acquisition in the capital outlay bill approved in a special session last month.
That includes $1,467,600 earmarked for I-40/Paseo del Volcan interchange right-of-way acquisition and an additional $609,000 for land acquisition in Sandoval County.
In Bernalillo County, three large landowners own nearly all the corridor’s right of way. Church said each agreed to donate land for the corridor.
They are: the city of Albuquerque, west of Double Eagle II Airport; Ranch Joint Venture, developer of the now-defunct Quail Ranch; and Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, developer of the proposed 22-square-mile Santolina community.
The proposed I-40/Paseo del Volcan interchange lies at the southern end of the corridor in Bernalillo County.
Land acquisition is more complicated in Sandoval County.
In Rio Rancho, about seven miles of Paseo del Volcan, also called N.M. 347, has been built from N.M. 550 west to the Rio Rancho City Centre, which includes the Santa Ana Star Center and the University of New Mexico Sandoval Medical Center.
The remaining nine miles of the Paseo del Volcan corridor in Sandoval County are undeveloped, with ownership divided among some 5,400 owners, according to the report prepared for the city by Parsons Brinckerhoff. Buying right of way in Sandoval County would cost an estimated $20 million, it said.
Church and others say purchasing right of way today, before development drives up land prices, is good public policy that would ensure the state one day could build a loop road west of Albuquerque.
“We have to create economic corridors” on Albuquerque’s West Side, said City Councilor Dan Lewis, a longtime supporter of the project.
The Paseo del Volcan corridor would provide areas zoned for industrial and commercial development, creating jobs on the West Side and help relieve the daily crush of commuters crossing the Rio Grande to work, he said.
“The jobs in Albuquerque are on the east side of the river,” said Lewis, who represents Northwest Albuquerque. “Hundreds of thousands of people live west of the river. The only way we’re truly going to catch up is by creating good jobs on the West Side.”
Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, who opposes both Paseo del Volcan and the Santolina development, said buying right of way would increase pressure to build Paseo del Volcan, costing taxpayers millions of dollars for the benefit of a few large developers and landowners.
“This is an expensive road and it’s way out there,” said O’Malley, whose district includes western Bernalillo County. “The problem I have with it is we’re going to get stuck with the bill. Now there’s another project out there that’s going to suck up money.”
Improvements to nearby Atrisco Vista Boulevard would be a smarter use of scarce transportation funding and would do more to relieve traffic congestion, O’Malley said.
She also questioned whether officials properly transferred about $4.3 million in federal highway funding earmarked for Atrisco Vista Boulevard improvements to pay for Paseo del Volcan right-of-way purchases.
Church acknowledged that the federal funding was originally earmarked for Atrisco Vista, but that Federal Highway Administration officials approved transfer of the funds to the Paseo del Volcan project.
An email provided by MRCOG shows that Federal Highway Administration officials notified the state Department of Transportation on June 5 that the federal agency had approved the state’s request to use money earmarked for Atrisco Vista to purchase right of way for Paseo del Volcan because both projects would provide an access route to Double Eagle II Airport.
Lewis responded that Atrisco Vista has limited potential to provide sites for commercial development because the road is between the Petroglyph National Monument and the Double Eagle II Airport.
“Right now, there is no (West Side) infrastructure that supports jobs,” Lewis said. “There’s just infrastructure that supports housing.”