May 21, 2015

Report ranks New Mexico’s rural roads among the worstSanta Fe New Mexican

One project would replace aging bridges and crumbling pavement near Galisteo. Another would straighten a hazardous curve on a road to Ruidoso. A third would widen U.S. 82 through Eddy and Lea counties, where traffic fatalities have doubled in the last four years, to accommodate an influx of heavy trucks in the oil patch.

The list of repairs grows even as a new report ranks New Mexico’s paved, rural roads as tied for ninth-worst in the 50 states.

Just as significant, the report by the nonprofit research group TRIP, for The Road Information Program, says those roads serve more than half of New Mexico’s 2 million residents.

The report — by a nonprofit funded by insurance companies, labor unions, equipment manufacturers and highway engineering businesses — was released as the U.S. House of Representatives approved a two-month extension of transportation funding. But Congress again avoided the question of how to pay for highways and transit over the long haul, an issue critical to New Mexico because 85 percent of its road construction projects are funded by U.S. taxpayers.

The Federal Highway Trust Fund relies on revenue from an 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax — an amount that hasn’t increased since 1993. The fund isn’t enough to cover transportation spending, but most lawmakers are reluctant to raise the tax. Since 2008, Congress has authorized 33 extensions to continue transportation funding without finding a longer-term solution. The extension passed by the House on Tuesday would expire July 31, when many lawmakers say they expect to go through the same exercise again.