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New Mexico Legislature and New Governor Move on Balanced Transportation Agenda

 

Buoyed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s commitment to support a balanced transportation agenda, the New Mexico STPP office with STPP Board members Hank Dittmar and Judith Espinosa and staffed by DeAnza Valencia, along with an active statewide transportation reform coalition helped to make 2003 a landmark year for transportation reform.  The statewide coalition, which has been growing since STPP’s office opened in 2001, created a platform with strong bipartisan support.  Along with an official name change of the New Mexico Highway and Transportation Department to the New Mexico Department of Transportation, there were a number of key transportation bills and memorials signed into law.

Key legislation included Senate Bill 561, the Transit Cap Removal Act .  Sponsored by Senator Dede Feldman (D-Albuquerque) the act removed the $50,000 expenditure cap on funds used by the State Department of Transportation for "Public Mass Transportation.”  Its companion bill, House Bill 534, sponsored by Representative Lucky Varela (D- Santa Fe), also moved through the Senate committees but time ran out for a Senate floor vote.  The Governor signed the bill on March 21, 2003.

STPP had been working for a number of years to move this legislation forward – having had two vetos from the previous New Mexico Governor.  With this cap in place New Mexico remained one of the handful of states not expending any state funds for mass transit.

Bill Richardson also signed the New Mexico Safe Routes to Schools bill.  New Mexico with the nation’s highest pedestrian fatality rate and with less than one percent of its federal transportation dollars going toward bicycle and pedestrian needs, was poised to begin a Safe Routes to Schools program.   The bill initiated by STPP and supported by the New Mexico Bicycle Coalition, 1000 Friends of New Mexico, the Coalition for a Livable Future, AAA New Mexico, New Mexico Safe Kids, Sierra Club and over fifty other organizations received  widespread support within the legislature.  Sponsored by Senator Linda Lopez (D-South Valley) the program is set up to help the state counties and municipalities identify school route hazards and implement engineering improving improvements.  Senator Lopez noted,  “There are many places within my district where children do not have a safe route to school.  This bill is the first step to recognizing that pedestrians, especially those most at risk – such as children, deserve their fair share of the funding.”

New Mexico also enabled the creation of Regional Transit Districts.  Sponsored by Senator Ben Altamirano (D- Silver City), the bill provides a framework for local governments to cooperate on regional transit projects.  Its companion bill, HB 102, sponsored by House Transportation Committee Chair Representative Dan Silva, moved through the Senate committees, but time also ran out for a Senate floor vote.

Senator Bernadette Sanchez (D-Albuquerque), the Vice-Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, sponsored Senate Bill 640 to study interstate rail passenger service from El Paso/Juarez through Albuquerque to Denver.  Governor Richardson signed the bill the first week of April.  Senator Sanchez noted, “Here in New Mexico the Rio Grande corridor has been so important.  It was one of our earliest trade routes in the new world connecting Mexico City through the Camino Real through Chihuahua, El Paso and Santa Fe.  New Mexico continues to grow along this corridor, but has not had passenger rail service for decades.  The passage of NAFTA has only increased the importance of our transportation link with Mexico.”  The bill funds the ATR Institute of UNM to work with the Great American Station Foundation on the study.  ATRI Director, Judith Espinosa is an STPP Board member and Hank Dittmar is the President of GASF.  STPP, GASF, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology are sponsors of the Reconnecting America  Project.

 

 
   
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