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Taking the 30,000-foot point of view at projects

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By Sherry Robinson

Let’s eavesdrop on a legislative Transportation and Public Works Committee meeting earlier this month.
Rep. Rick Little asked how much it would cost to mothball the New Mexico Rail Runner. “I’m from a county that’s way down south and it doesn’t benefit them one bit. Other counties feel the same way.”
Chris Blewett, of the Rio Metro Regional Transportation District, tried to put the commuter train in perspective. Central New Mexico has one road, I-25, connecting Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Belen and four pueblos.
“It’s not just for today’s conditions but for the future, when you can’t even drive into Santa Fe, he said. Adding a lane would have cost more. As it is, any accident on I-25 bottles it up for hours. “This corridor has 60 percent of the state’s jobs and half the state’s population,” he said.
Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbertson spoke up. She represents Sandoval County, the state’s second fastest growing county.
“If you look at the nation’s transportation system – New York, Chicago, Washington – none of them pay for themselves,” she said. “My area was one of the areas that voted to tax itself (to pay for the Rail Runner). There’s not a parking lot that isn’t full between Belen and Santa Fe.”
She could have added that parking lots in Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Los Lunas and Belen have had to expand two and three times.
“I got tremendous heat for supporting the Rail Runner, but I participated in the Nation’s Ridesharing concept,” she said. “You see it quite differently. We’re in a tight crunch, but I wish we could expand. I look at it as an economic builder because people can buy a home farther out. In the long run, it will cut down on highway improvements.”
Rep. Anna Crook, of Clovis, said, “Most of the people on this committee are in the rural areas and feel the same way as Rep. Little. We feel the same way about the Spaceport.”
Not everybody.
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom asked a Department of Transportation staffer to show them the locations of the Big I, the Santa Teresa border crossing, the new road network in Eunice, the Spaceport, the Manuelito Visitor Center, and the Glen Rio Visitor Center.
“From a 30,000-foot point of view, all the major infrastructure projects don’t pay for themselves,” she said. “They’re all over the state. It’s not about use, it’s about economic development.
“I come from Gallup. I have always supported these infrastructure projects because they help the state. I’ve never been to Eunice, but when the group said they were bringing in an enrichment plant, I was all for it because I knew it would help the state, including Gallup, New Mexico. Twenty years from now, when it’s all said and done, we’ll be proud of the Rail Runner.”
Rep. Bobby Gonzalez, of Taos, chimed in.
“In the 1960s we debated building a bridge across the Rio Grande gorge,” he said. “Where would we be today without that bridge? The Rail Runner doesn’t go to Taos, but I support it 100 percent. It’s hard to explain to my constituents, but the Rail Runner is one step. It would be nice to see the Rail Runner extended to different parts of the state. Wherever it goes, I’ll support it. China and every other country is getting ahead of us in infrastructure.”
Gonzales pointed out that most of the state’s gross receipts tax revenues come from Albuquerque, and most of the water comes from northern New Mexico. Extend that argument a bit farther. Most of our electricity comes from Farmington, most of our oil and gas come from southeastern and northeastern New Mexico. If each region refuses to support the rest, where are we?
Two weeks later, when Lundstrom proposed studying a Rail Runner extension to Gallup, the committee supported her unanimously.

Sherry Robinson
NM News Services