Get a GRIP

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Streets and roads are at the top of the legislative wish list for area counties and municipalities.

Local officials are hoping proposed legislation called GRIP 2 will be the answer to those projects they can’t tackle on their own.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Daniel Silva, D-Albuquerque, passed the House easily on Tuesday with a 62-5 vote. The bill is in the Senate, where the debate is expected to be tougher, according to legislators and local officials.

GRIP 2 is an extension of the 2003 GRIP (Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership) program. It proposes to issue up to $250 million in severance tax bonds over five years for local transportation projects.

The original GRIP, a $1.6 billion program, addressed major highway projects along with the RailRunner public transportation project. State officials say GRIP 2 would bring desperately needed money to smaller local projects.

In the bill, Curry County would receive $1.45 million to reconstruct Curry County Road 4 east from U.S. 70 to N.M. 348. The road is in dire need of reconstruction, and if fixed would help take truck traffic to and from Southwest Cheese off downtown Clovis streets, according to Curry County Manager Dick Smith.

Smith also cited safety concerns on the road, which serves two dairies and numerous county residents.

“It (Curry County’s submitted project) won’t happen without it,” Smith said. “The greatest amount of money out there is the GRIP 2 money.

“This is a million-and-a-half project. We’ve never put that much into one single project. There’s not enough of a revenue base in the county to build it,” he pointed out, noting that a $2 million project would be 25 percent of the county’s general fund budget.

Roosevelt County also has an existing truck relief route in mind for its money: a $198,000 project to reconstruct Roosevelt Road 7 between U.S. 70 and N.M. 206.
“To get it fixed immediately, this is probably the only way,” County Manager Charlene Hardin said.

The city of Clovis has the biggest project, however, with a request for $2 million to reconstruct Prince Street from Commerce Way to Llano Estacado Boulevard.
The state resurfaced a portion of Prince Street in October.

“The work that the state did with the mill and overlay (on Prince) bought us some time,” Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said. “It will not be a long-term solution by any means.”

Thomas said the overlay might last five years given the current Prince Street traffic volume. He said a complete reconstruction is needed and GRIP 2 is the best source for that kind of money.

Facing similar problems with its main thoroughfare, the city of Portales requested $14 million to reconstruct U.S. 70, when GRIP 2 was proposed last year.

The project was pulled out of the bill in the final weeks of the 2006 Legislature because the state feared there wouldn’t be enough money.

According to New Mexico Department of Transportation officials, those dropped were larger projects and on state-maintained highways. Ultimately, last year’s bill died in Senate committee as time ran out in the session.

Portales City Manager Debi Lee said her city has tried various approaches to get back into GRIP 2, including phasing the project, with little success.

Portales officials have rejected the idea of another overlay project, saying the road has to be redone.

“We’ll either get a phased approach or the full $14 million,” Lee said. “Our approach is, don’t throw the money away. We want to improve the condition of our roads, but we don’t want to do it with a stop-gap measure.”

Other local projects in the bill include $800,000 for street improvements in Elida and $558,000 in Fort Sumner for reconstruction of a mile of 17th Street out to the airport and industrial park.

Fort Sumner Administrator and City Treasurer Ron Sena said GRIP 2 money is the only option for Fort Sumner.

Before the bill cleared the House last week, Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he supported GRIP 2 but there were still lots of questions surrounding it.

He said the original GRIP program is already $300 million in the hole because of increased construction costs. He worries the same problems could be in store for GRIP 2.

“It’s going to be tough to spread the money around,” Ingle said. “Those are easy things to talk about, but tough to do.”

NMDOT spokesperson S.U. Mahesh said the original GRIP program was not under-funded and was progressing on schedule.

Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, agreed the bill will likely come under fire in the Senate from some corners.

“I have heard some objections, mostly the same as were heard in the House,” Harden said.