State exec says storms created high-dollar mess; lawmakers skeptical
A New Mexico cabinet member said Tuesday that summer storms caused almost $20 million damage to state roads, but legislators questioned whether the estimate was accurate.
Tom Church, secretary-designate of the state Department of Transportation, said about 290 miles of roads were damaged and need to be repaired.
One item on his list — $13 million to rebuild two miles of a state highway — drew most of the skepticism from members of a transportation subcommittee.
Sen. Clemente Sanchez, right, D-Grants, asked Church whether the cost was inflated.
Church first said that the $13 million figure also seemed high to him, but he later verified it as “accurate.”
He said storms destroyed a section of New Mexico 159 in Catron County. That highway, from mile markers 8 to 10, was washed out and requires “a complete slope realignment,” Church said.
It is open only to local traffic, provided that drivers have high-clearance vehicles, he said.
Another highway project of just two-tenths of a mile was listed at a repair cost of $3.07 million. Church also said that figure was accurate after legislators questioned it.
The money would rebuild a southbound lane that was washed away on New Mexico 1 in Socorro County. It is at mile marker 23.
Sanchez said he remained unconvinced that so much money would be necessary to rebuild small sections of two highways.
“I just question the numbers we have been given here,” he said. “I’m not saying they’re lying or they’re wrong, but they need to give us all the information.”
Sanchez said one reason for his doubts was the wide difference between the first damage estimates and the figures Church supplied to the Legislature on Tuesday.
Road repairs for the entire state initially were pegged at $6.8 million, or about one-third of the new estimate.
Church said the updated cost analysis was done by his staff and the Federal Highway Administration, which sent investigators to check damage and document necessary repairs.
In addition to $16 million for 2.2 miles of highway repairs, the state Department of Transportation says about 90 other road repairs are necessary. They would cost a total of $3.84 million.
Many would be far more simple than the Catron and Socorro reconstruction projects. They involve removal of debris, fixing highway shoulders weakened pouring rain and work on bridges.