New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has proposed a $200 million package of 13 road construction projects that would be financed with $100 million of energy severance tax bonds and $100 million from the state’s surplus.
State officials expect revenue will exceed expenditures in fiscal 2009 by $392 million.
The governor said the roads measure would be included in the agenda for the special session he has announced that has yet to be scheduled. Richardson said he would call a special session for September, but later said he might set the session for August because “people are hurting.”
He said building the projects in the rural areas of the state would complete 90% of the original GRIP program approved by the Legislature in 2003.
“When I took office, I made a commitment to improve the state’s highways, but inflation and federal funding issues forced us to put many projects on hold,” Richardson said. “Right now, we have the resources to finish what we started and improve highways that are the lifeline for thousands of New Mexicans.”
GRIP, or Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership, was proposed as a $1.6 billion effort to expand and improve New Mexico’s road system. Since it began, 32 projects have been completed at a cost of $525 million, with 33 projects under construction.
Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught said highway projects have been hampered by rapid increases in the prices for roadway materials.
“In the last five years, the price of asphalt alone has increased by nearly 300%,” Faught said. “With the money the governor has provided, we can complete several projects around the state, especially those in rural communities where public transportation is not always readily available.”
The state has $485 million of authorized but unissued GRIP highway revenue bonds after sales of $700 million of debt in May 2004 and $450 million in September 2006.
Richardson proposed a GRIP II program in 2007 but it was not approved by the Legislature. The $250 million plan would have been financed with $50 million a year from severance tax bond proceeds for five years.
New Mexico’s severance tax bonds are rated Aa2 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA by Standard & Poor’s.