New Mexico’s Road “Crisis”

In case you missed it, Trip Jennings of the Albuquerque Journal had an interesting article (subscription required) outlining what New Mexico’s political leaders are calling “a road funding crisis.” Of course, if you listen to Richardson’s transportation people, shifting scarce funds away from the Rail Runner is beyond the pale despite the fact that:

-operating cost for the Rail Runner — above and beyond the $400 million needed to construct it — will rise from $9.5 million to $20 million a year;

-the state needs to make up $75 million in federal funding that hasn’t come through for Rail Runner construction and start-up costs.

Of course, when legislators like Tim Jennings and Lucky Varela (both Democrats) even discuss the possibility of using Rail Runner money for roads, S.U. Mahesh of the Department of Transportation accused them of “having a horse-and-buggy mentality” (whatever that means). The fact is that if New Mexico legislators are at all serious about closing the funding gap, eliminating the Santa Fe Rail Runner expansion is a must.
That is not to say that stopping the Rail Runner extension will solve all of our problems. Tolling is another idea but there is a right way and a wrong way to use tolling. The wrong way is to set up government tolling authorities as was done along the Eastern Seaboard. Anyone who has traveled by car between Boston and Washington, DC can attest to long lines and poorly-maintained roads that can also be quite expensive.
The right way to do tolling is to work with private firms that build and maintain toll roads as an investment. Similar roads have been constructed in Southern California and elsewhere and rely on innovative technology to eliminate toll booths while maintenance and landscaping standards exceed those of other roads.
Lastly, while the task force has not considered it yet, any effort to improve New Mexico infrastructure should include a close look at repeal of our “Little Davis-Bacon Act.” These “prevailing wage” laws drive construction costs up as much as 10-15 percent. Repeal of this law in New Mexico would allow the market, not the unions, to set construction costs.
Maintaining and improving New Mexico’s infrastructure is very important to the state’s economy. While no single solution will solve our problems, implementing the solutions listed above would be a good start.