ALBUQUERQUE — With billions of federal dollars earmarked for New Mexico for infrastructure projects, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday rural areas cannot be left behind.
The governor made the comment during a virtual summit attended by more than 200 city officials from across the state. She said the aim is to ensure that administrative requirements and other bureaucratic hurdles do not prevent small communities from accessing the money.
“We need to make sure it’s easy to access and navigate because if you don’t, we’ll be leaving behind communities that deserve the same level of investment and support as everyone else,” said Lujan Grisham. “We tend to think in terms of big cities, and that’s completely unfair and won’t work.”
Local officials spoke of needs ranging from upgrading the water supply system, road works, improving broadband connectivity and health care services.
Community leaders from Ruidoso in southern New Mexico have offered to help other municipalities through the process, and the governor has suggested that a group be formed by towns and villages that could lead the charge.
The business of dispersing federal funding and ensuring it is used wisely will be enormous, as New Mexico expects to receive more than $3.7 billion. This includes more than $2.5 billion for roads, at least $100 million to boost broadband coverage, and more than $350 million over five years for water infrastructure projects.
“We have more money for water infrastructure than you can imagine, and what we want to do faster than anything else is get it out,” said the environment secretary of the New -Mexico, James Kenney, at the summit, in nod to concerns about inflation pushing the cost of projects higher.
Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation also touted funds to expand the state’s electric vehicle charging network and improve local airports.
US Senator Martin Heinrich, the senior state senator, said it could be tempting to use the money to cement the status quo. He told the mayors during the call that it would be up to them to “build us a bridge to our future and not a statue to our past”.
Economists, engineers and others have said $1 trillion in infrastructure spending will not be enough to overcome the federal government‘s decades-long failure to maintain and upgrade the country’s infrastructure, and government officials New Mexico acknowledged Friday that the needs of cities and towns will not be enough. t be met overnight.
Lujan Grisham pointed to up to $400 million in dam repairs that need to be done in New Mexico. Columbus Mayor Esequiel Salas says his border community needs money for a health and wellness center; Eagle Nest Mayor Jeff Carr spoke about the lack of ongoing funding for emergency medical services in his northeastern New Mexico village; and Bloomfield Mayor Cynthia Atencio said her town needed an additional drinking water tank.
Still, the governor and others were optimistic that this wave of funding presented “a real opportunity” to achieve major milestones in improving infrastructure in the state.