State Rep. Cathrynn Brown to prioritize 'urgent' road projects in New Mexico House bill

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus
  • Bill defines 'urgent need' road projects
  • A new fund would be created to support the prioritized projects
  • A one-time appropriation of $60 million made to Urgent Need Highway Project Fund

A string of more than 10 deaths along highways in southeast New Mexico last year sparked Carlsbad’s state representative to bring the problem to Santa Fe.

Most of the fatalities occurred on main thoroughfares that service oil and gas operations, amid an oil boom that provided more than $1 billion in surplus state funds by the beginning of the 2019 Legislative Session at the Roundhouse.

New Mexico State Rep. Cathrynn Brown introduced a three-part plan to direct state taxes on gasoline to road projects, make it easier for individuals and private companies to donate to road projects, and appropriate $860 million to the State’s Road Fund and the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

That trifecta of roads bills: House Bills 188, 189 and 291 just added a fourth.

More:After crashes on U.S. 285, New Mexico residents at odds with officials over road repairs

New Mexico State Rep. Cathrynn Brown addresses roadway safety in Eddy County, May 22, 2018 at the Pecos River Village Conference Center.

House Bill 361 was introduced to the New Mexico House of Representatives, sponsored by Brown, and is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday in the House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee.

It would identify road projects of “urgent need,” and create state funding for such efforts.

“The legislature finds that the standard highway project planning process is not structured to respond to rapid changes in highway traffic volume due to regional fluctuations in economic growth, population and traffic patterns,” read the opening of bill.

Ahead of the hearing, here are the main aspects of HB 361:

What is an “urgent need highway project?”

If passed, HB 361 would define “urgent need highway projects” as any project that has not completed the state transportation planning process but would:

  • Increase safety on a section of highway that has seen a 30 percent increase in accidents or traffic fatalities in the last three years
  • Relieve traffic congestion on a highway that saw its traffic volume increase beyond the designed safety capacity for an average of four hours or more per day, for three or more days per week, or if the average community has increased by one third due to the growing traffic
The Village of Loving is inundated with large commercial vehicles every evening following the boom of the oil and gas industry in the Delaware Basin.

Where does the money come from?

The bill would also establish the Urgent Need Highway Project Fund within the State Treasury.

The fund would consist of appropriations, donations, investments and other moneys distributed to the fund.

More:"Good roads are good business." Brown's road bills advance through NM Legislature

The NMDOT would be the administrator of the fund if HB 361 is passed, and appropriations would only be allowed if there was at least $6 million in the fund at the start of the fiscal year.

Disbursements of the fund would be approved by the secretary of finance and administration, following submitted vouchers from the NMDOT.

Unused dollars would not revert into the State coffers at the end of the fiscal year.

More:Brown's road plan: Carlsbad lawmaker sponsors three bills to support road funding

Each of the NMDOT’s six geographical districts would be eligible for one sixth of the money the fund, for design and construction of highway projects deemed to have an “urgent need.”

In each fiscal year where there is enough money in the fund to make disbursements – $6 million – each district engineer would be tasked with submitting a list of priorities to the secretary of transportation for funding approval.

Annual reporting required

Starting on Nov. 1, and continuing on that date each year, each district would be required to provide a report on its urgent need highway projects.

These reports would include the projected cost of every project, and the status of the alleged urgent need.

More:NMDOT: Funding inadequate for New Mexico's roads

Start up cash

Brown’s bill also calls for an appropriation of state funds more than 10 times the minimum needed to unlock disbursements from the fund.

From the State’s General Fund, $60 million would be initially paid into the Urgent Need Highway Project Fund for use during fiscal year 2020, and the following years.

Any amount of the $60 million that is unused by the fund would not go back to the general fund under the bill.

Stay with currentargus.com for coverage of Thursday's hearing on HB 361.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.