FARMINGTON — A state-sponsored transportation planning organization formed to help improve roads and highways in areas outside major population centers is looking for public input.

Public and local government input, officials say, is required to help allocate limited money for projects throughout northwest New Mexico.

"Unfortunately in the funding scheme, (regional planning organizations) get crumbs off the table," said Robert Kuipers, a planner at the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments. "The bottom line is that it's challenging to get funding."

Federal and state money generally is spent on the so-called main arterials, roads, freeways and highways in metropolitan areas, he said.

The state's Northwest Regional Transportation Planning Organization committee will meet on Jan. 9 in Grants and Feb. 13 in Milan.

The organization coordinates road and highway planning in San Juan, McKinley and Cibola counties. Representatives from the Navajo Nation, and Zuni, Acoma and Laguna pueblos also participate.

Its territory includes 15,500 square miles. If the area were a state, it would rank 42nd, between West Virginia and Maryland, according to the organization's April presentation.

Securing transportation funding for the region is difficult because just 235,000 people live in the service area, making it a rural population center with a density of 11 people per square mile.


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Because of this low population density, there are limited tax revenues and a lack of project funding to match.

"A lot of local governments are strapped in finding funds for smaller roads, or to develop new ones," Kuipers said. "In a recession, it's challenging to maintain roads."

But regional planning organizations allow smaller government to collaborate with tribal governments to secure more funding, Kuipers said.

"There are some county roads out on the Navajo Nation that are not major arterials, but large county and tribal populations depend on those roads," he said.

The Indian Reservation Roads funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs divides $450 million among 535 tribes nationwide.

Planning organizations can help county and tribal governments figure out how to split the costs of maintaining these roads, and coordinate with metropolitan planning organizations, which receive more funding, he said.

The cities of Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield are part of the Farmington Metropolitan Planning Organization.

A prime example of a potential collaborative project is N.M. Hwy. 173 from Aztec to Navajo Dam, Kuipers said.

The highway's first few miles are under the jurisdiction of the Farmington planning organization. The rest is overseen by Kuipers and his colleagues.

"A lot of residents have an interest in improving it," he said. "There's a lot of hills and commercial truck traffic. It's a dangerous road."

Repaving the entire stretch from Aztec to Navajo Dam would cost between $50 million and $80 million, he said.

"For that kind of money, the feds are worried about (U.S.) 491 or I-40," he said. "You have to get creative."

The Jan. 9 meeting will be held at New Mexico State University's Grants campus in the Small Business Development Center at 701 E. Roosevelt Ave. from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Feb. 13 meeting will be held at the Milan Parks and Recreation Office at 409 Airport Road in Milan from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For more information about the meetings or the Northwest Regional Transportation Planning Organization, call 505-722-4327.