$13 million for two miles? $3 million for two-tenths of a mile? Lawmakers question price on road repairs

By Rob Nikolewski on October 8, 2013
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MILLIONS FOR A COUPLE SMALL STRETCHES OF HIGHWAY: A combined $16 million price tag is requested to fix one two-mile stretch and another two-tenths of a mile in New Mexico. Photo from the NM Department of Transportation.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Flooding in the state last month was a once-in-a-century event, the said.

But some lawmakers are questioning nearly $20 million to repair roads damaged by the downpours.

In particular, a two-mile stretch in Catron County estimated to cost taxpayers $13 million to repair and a two-tenths-of-a-mile stretch in Socorro County that the DOT says will cost $3.075 million.

“I question whenever we’re told at a meeting that it’s $6 million and then it jumps to $20 million,” state Sen. , D-Grants, said after a hearing of the at the Roundhouse. “I wonder about that. I heard it was going to be $6 million at a commission meeting in Zuni (Pueblo).”

At first, said he would have to take a closer look at the cost estimates for the two projects but after speaking to one of his district engineers, Church said the figures were accurate.

The Catron County repair between mile markers 8 and 10 on New Mexico Route 159 “involves a complete slope realignment,” Church said, and the Socorro County project between mile markers 23 and 23.2 on NM 1 is expensive because it requires “an entire streambed alignment.”

“The big one that jumps out is the $13 million (project),” said , a longtime Roundhouse veteran and a cabinet secretary at DOT under Govs. Toney Anaya and Garrey Carruthers in the 1980s. “Unless it’s a bridge or some big structure, I would think maybe those numbers have to be reviewed again.”

At the same time, Larrañaga said he wouldn’t be surprised if the overall cost of the repair project exceeds the $19.845 million price tag Church gave to the subcommittee to repair some 92 locations.

“Outside of that $13 million project, I would suspect all of the other numbers are pretty low,” Larrañaga said, pointing to 31 projects that came in at $10,000 or less. “You couldn’t even get contractors relocated for some of the amounts they’re showing there.”

The DOT handed out photos of some of the washed-out areas.

Here’s a picture of the washout on Route 159 in Catron County:

“Personally, I think this is a hundred-year flood,” Church, a 21-year veteran of the DOT told . “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Of the 92 projects listed on a spreadsheet, the Catron and Socorro projects make up 81 percent of the nearly $20 million requested to fix the roads.

“I just question the numbers we’ve been given here,” said Sanchez. “I’m not saying they’re lying. They just need to a little more research to see if those are accurate numbers … I’m kind of a hawk on that with taxpayers’ dollars.”

The subcommittee passed a motion to have state agencies, including the , work with the DOT to look into the costs and funding of the proposed project.

Here’s NM Watchdog video of Sen. Sanchez and Rep.  Larrañaga:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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