How about this for a status line sign? “Welcome to the Land of Enchantment. Warning: Cross our highways at your own risk.
Unfortunately, even after several years of cash-strapped state budgets thanks to oil and gas, and billions of federal infrastructure dollars available, this sign could/should welcome people driving in New Mexico.
The latest road drama concerns the state’s main north-south artery. Belly damage to the 49-year-old Interstate 25 bridges over the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque was discovered during a regular semi-annual inspection in November. Traffic, loads, the age of the structure and the fragility of the concrete due to temperature variations are the cause of damage to five bridge piers.
These bridges handle a high percentage of truck traffic and average more than 35,000 vehicle crossings per day, so it’s concerning that the New Mexico Department of Transportation had to shore them up to keep them from failing a while ago. a few months, then seek an emergency supply last month because “If this location is not addressed quickly, the bridge could fail completely.”
Regular semis are still permitted, although oversized/overweight loads should seek an alternate route.
The NMDOT has since awarded a $1 million one-offer contract to AUI Inc. of Albuquerque, the only contractor to respond to the demand for repairs this summer. NMDOT had requested the emergency purchase to repair the piers because it could not find a local construction company on the state’s pre-approved list with time or personnel to do the permanent repair. 11th hour, one-off emergency contracts are not the most economical/ideal method for road and bridge maintenance.
And New Mexico has plenty of state-owned bridges – 2,978 – to maintain and repair. About 127 of them are in “poor condition,” according to NMDOT, requiring about $525,223,030 to rehabilitate or replace.
And that’s if prices don’t rise due to lack of contractor availability, labor shortages, and escalating material, manufacturing, and shipping costs.
Damage to the pier caps and structural bearings on the I-25 Bridge is similar to damage on the Rio Bravo Boulevard River Bridge, which underwent emergency repair more than two years ago. Jill Mosher, assistant district engineer for NMDOT, said a $50 million replacement was now $78 million as prices soared. This work is suspended due to lack of funding.
Failing roads and bridges are truly a statewide problem. Motorists in southern New Mexico will remember for years a sign warning motorists: “US 285 south subject to sinkhole 1,000 feet ahead.” Carlsbad City Council and the Eddy County Commission declared an emergency after a giant cavern was discovered under US 285 that threatened to swallow part of the freeway and possibly a church, several businesses and a trailer park.
And while an NMDOT spokeswoman explains that bridges in “poor condition” can still be crossed safely, and that proactive management and dedicated funding means New Mexico has “a relatively low number of bridges in poor condition compared to other states,” patching over 100 bridges is not a selling point for daily commuters and won’t make New Mexico’s tourism campaign true.
Historically, New Mexico has done a poor job of focusing its capital on real capital projects, i.e. infrastructure. Each year, too much money is allocated to smaller “wanted” items (in 2022, which include wrestling gear and a heavy metal museum) rather than larger “necessary” items like safe roads and Of drinking water. And far too many projects don’t last the life of the link that funds them.
It’s an old but important refrain: the state should use its capital to invest in real infrastructure – roads and bridges, as well as water supply systems and internet access – that will better stand the test of time. . Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and state lawmakers have an opportunity like never before to invest in the state’s tough landscape. Hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into New Mexico for road and bridge improvement projects under the massive $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by the President Joe Biden in November. New Mexico will receive $3.7 billion, including $2.8 billion for road and bridge projects over the next five years. The money can also be used for airport, broadband and water projects.
State coffers are also overflowing with about $6 billion from oil and natural gas revenues.
Now is the time to invest in our infrastructure, while funding is available to make a lasting difference for every new Mexican. Our lawmakers and our governor have teamed up to fund a three-year, $65 million cleanup project to pump sand and grout to fill the Carlsbad sinkhole. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the general completion of the project last month.
New Mexicans need our legislators and our governor to do this statewide so we don’t have to question the safety of the highway or bridge they’re traveling over.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than that of the editors.