ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — With billions of federal dollars heading to New Mexico for infrastructure projects, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday that rural areas can’t be left behind.
The governor made the comment during a virtual summit attended by more than 200 municipal officials from around the state. She said the goal is to ensure that administrative requirements and other bureaucratic hoops don’t keep small communities from accessing the money.
“We have to make sure it is easy to access and navigate because if you don't, we're going to leave behind communities that deserve the same level of investment and support as everybody else,” Lujan Grisham said. “We have a tendency to think in terms of big cities and it's completely unfair and won't work.”
Local officials talked about needs that ranged from water system upgrades, road work, improved broadband connectivity and health care services.
Officials in the southern New Mexico community of Ruidoso offered to help other municipalities through the process, and the governor suggested a group be formed by cities and towns that could lead the charge.
The undertaking of dispersing the federal funding and ensuring that it gets put to good use will be huge, as New Mexico expects to receive more than $3.7 billion. That includes more than more than $2.5 billion for roads, at least $100 million for boosting broadband coverage and over $350 million over five years for water infrastructure projects.
“We have more water infrastructure money than you could imagine, and what we want to do faster than anything else is get it out the door,” New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney said during the summit, in a nod to concerns about inflation pushing the cost of projects higher.
The Democratic members of New Mexico's congressional delegation also touted money that is aimed at expanding the state's electric vehicle charging network and improving local airports.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, the state's senior senator, said there might be a temptation to use the money to cement the status quo. He told the mayors on the call that it will 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 that $1 trillion in infrastructure spending won't be nearly enough to overcome the federal government’s failure for decades to maintain and upgrade the country’s infrastructure, and New Mexico officials acknowledged Friday that the needs of cities and towns won't be met overnight.
Lujan Grisham pointed to as much as $400 million worth of dam repairs that need to happen in New Mexico. Columbus Mayor Esequiel Salas said his border community needs money for a health and wellness center; Eagle Nest Mayor Jeff Carr talked about the lack of permanent funding for emergency medical services in his northeastern New Mexico village; and Bloomfield Mayor Cynthia Atencio said her city needs an additional drinking water reservoir.
Still, the governor and others were optimistic that this wave of funding presented “a real opportunity” to hit major milestones when it comes to infrastructure improvements around the state.