By Rep. David Gallegos (R-Eunice)
The New Mexico state budget is experiencing record budget surpluses, and it appears these surpluses, maybe as much as $1 billion per year, may continue for the foreseeable future. These surpluses are the sole result of the oil and natural gas boom occurring in the portion of the Permian Basin located in southeastern New Mexico. In fact, due to the rapidly growing oil production from this area, New Mexico now is the third-largest oil producer in the U.S.
These millions of barrels of new oil production translate into a big windfall for the state budget through higher gross receipt tax revenues and increased royalty payments from oil and gas production on federal and state lands. In short, southeastern New Mexico’s wealth of natural resources has not only benefitted the economies of Lea, Eddy, and other surrounding counties but has provided the state budget with financial rewards which can be used for a wide range of transportation problems across New Mexico.
Yet, the economic bonanza provided by the Permian Basin has not been without some adverse side effects. For example, the ever-growing number of large trucks and tankers have inflicted tremendous damage to southeastern New Mexico’s roads and highways. This damage has resulted in numerous serious accidents, untold numbers of car repairs and flat tires, and rising frustration with increased traffic congestion and unsafe driving conditions. Fortunately, help with fixing and improving southeastern New Mexico’s roads and highways is on the way.
One of the best things the State Legislature did during the last legislative session was to earmark the one percentage point increase in the motor vehicle excise tax to help address southeastern New Mexico’s emergency road conditions. This earmark is for the next two years and will provide about $52 million each year in funding for highway maintenance and construction projects just in southeastern New Mexico!
Equally important, the budget surpluses generated from southeastern New Mexico’s booming oil economy allowed the State Legislature to provide $250 million for major transportation projects statewide with those dollars being made available over two years. Another $89 million was appropriated so it could be evenly divided among the state’s six transportation districts to complete high priority projects on the statewide transportation improvement program. A third pot of money totaling $50 million was approved by the State Legislature for the newly created local government transportation project fund.
Of the $389 million provided by the State Legislature earlier this year for statewide transportation projects, southeastern New Mexico is set to receive funding for rights of way, planning, design and construction of a 22-mile relief route for U.S. Route 285 that will ultimately cost about $115 million. Another $14.8 million is expected for various other priority projects in the region that involve pavement rehabilitation for U.S. Route 70 and U.S. Route 54, plus new signing and striping throughout the area.
While funding has been identified for these high priority highway projects, it takes an average of 3-4 years from the time a project is identified as a priority to getting construction underway. In addition, construction times can also be quite lengthy depending upon the type of construction necessary and the mileage length of the project. For example, reconstructing 32 miles of highway can take as long as two years. These project timelines are the same throughout New Mexico.
When the next legislative session starts in January 2020, I will continue to be a vocal advocate for as much funding as possible to help southeastern New Mexico fix our crumbling roads and highways. Yet, I hope everyone realizes it will take transportation officials some time to finalize funding, hire contractors, and finish construction for any high priority project. But again, the good news is that help is on the way to improving our region’s transportation system. For additional information, please feel free to contact the Transportation District Office 2 (which is responsible for Southeastern New Mexico) at (575) 840-3035.