LOS LUNAS — The village of Los Lunas is in a race against the clock to fund the proposed I-25 interchange and east-to-west corridor project.
If the village does not give notice of bid award for the first phase by July 2024, they could lose out on $25 million awarded to the village through the federally-awarded Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant.
Los Lunas Public Works Director Michael Jaramillo told the governing body the village is about $51 million short of fully funding the $141 million first phase of the project. The entirety of the project is $220 million.
“I wanted to bring to your attention that we are moving forward and we do have some plans to go again to the Legislature this year with a different take and different push to get some of this money that is supposedly out there,” Jaramillo said during a January work session to go over the village’s five-year strategic plan.
The entirety of the corridor project includes four miles of a four-lane highway — Los Lunas Boulevard — from N.M. 47 to I-25. It would include a new I-25 interchange, a new river crossing and four signalized intersections with the goal of alleviating congestion from Los Lunas Main Street.
Proposed time line for project
- March 2023: Obtain final approval from the Federal Highway Administration, allocating the $25 million INFRA grant for construction.
- June 2023: Submit final 90 percent design plans to New Mexico Department of Transportation for review.
- February 2024: Obtain final plan, specifications and estimates approval.
- April 2024: Obtain approval from NMDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to advertise for construction bids.
- May 2024: Request and advertise for construction bids.
- July 2024: Award construction bids to build Los Lunas Boulevard (phase one of the corridor project).
- September 2024: Start construction on phase one of the east to west corridor from I-25 to N.M. 47.
“We are hoping something happens this year,” Jaramillo said in regards to securing more funding. “If it does, that’s great. If it doesn’t, we can’t go backwards. If we go backwards, everything we have worked through to get to this point will have to restart and have a whole new cost. It’s just not worth it.”
Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego also pointed to the INFRA grant as the reason why the project could not be postponed until more funding has been secured.
“(It) will cause us to lose our studies that we’ve done, our environmental studies will be dated, right of way will be spent, design will be dated also,” Griego said. “So, that’s one of the main reasons we need to get this program moving.”
Scaling back the project is also not an option due to the restriction placed on federal funds the village has already been awarded. Through the requirements of the INFRA grant and the application submitted to the grant by the village three years ago, the first phase of the project is required to include the interchange, a new river bridge, and intersections, but with only one lane in each direction.
Jaramillo said costs on the overall project have increased due to inflation, with New Mexico Department of Transportation officials requiring the village to increase estimates on the project by 30 percent on two separate occasions.
While Jaramillo does not anticipate the first phase actually costing the village $141 million, he is required to show funding available for the entire amount in order for NMDOT to consider the project fiscally constrained.
Another increase came when the village began to look into the cost of the new river bridge. Jaramillo said first estimates predicted the cost to be similar to the replacement of the river bridge on N.M. 6, however the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is requiring different criteria for this crossing.
“We assumed because they already built and rebuilt (the) N.M. 6 bridge on Main Street and they did it for about $30 million,” Jaramillo said. “We were hoping the same structure design could be carried onto this project, but the abutments (for) that bridge sits underneath, they said, ‘No, you can’t have them in the river; you have to put them on the outside.’ So it’s similar to what’s on I-25 in Isleta.”
Jaramillo estimates building a bridge with the abutments clearing not only the river but also the conservancy ditches on either side increases the bridge cost to about $55 million.
Courtesy of the village of Los Lunas
This conceptual rendering shows the new finished, four-lane highway — Los Lunas Boulevard — looking east, where intersects with N.M. 314, between N.M. 47 and Interstate 25.
Potential funding sources
Jaramillo told the council his department has been exploring several options for funding through both the state and federal governments; however, match requirements are causing the village to still come up short.
“I have to meet the federal requirement for any federal funds received and, right now, (we’re) short about $9.5 million (in matching funds),” Jaramillo said, referring to money the village received through the state in 2021. “So, yes, I got $10 million, I can say it’s right there, but overall in the whole project, I’m $51 million short.”
The village has already applied for the federal Mega grant, and will also apply for several other federal grants, such as the RAISE grant or the Build America Better grant.
Jaramillo pointed out that while the Mega grant has yet to be awarded, the New Mexico Department of Transportation has three separate applications also into the program.
“If there is one award to New Mexico and it goes to them, what they have been telling us is that it will help them free up some money to where they can move some of their money into our project,” Jaramillo said. “I don’t feel very comfortable with that.”
During the 2022 legislative session, the Los Lunas I-25 interchange project was one of the 12 projects that qualified for the $250 million in funding available through House Bill 2. Jaramillo said due to the way the bill was written, the village saw none of that funding despite anticipating about $20 million.
“The (department of transportation officials) basically said, ‘Mike, if you read the house bill language, it says may appropriate funds to these projects, so, we have the discretion to appropriate the funds where we see fit,’” Jaramillo said, adding in year’s past, each project received a specific dollar amount of funding as outlined through the bill.
Griego said most of the House Bill 2 money instead went to a road improvement project in Albuquerque, one of the District 3 metro area priorities. The village of Los Lunas is also classified as a part of the Albuquerque metro area from a funding standpoint.
“What we can take from that is that it’s nice to be close to Albuquerque, but being in the same district as Albuquerque is very difficult to compete at some levels of demand,” Griego said.
One of the largest prospects of funding that could also address the village’s concerns over matching federal funds is through American Rescue Plan funding, which is allocated through the state.
Jaramillo said he has been talking with a member of the governor’s office, who told him they are working to ensure the allocated ARPA funding can go towards a federal grant match, which will ease the financial burden on the village.
The village is also looking at applying for a State Infrastructure Bank loan, which allows governments to access low-cost financing for surface transportation projects. However, much like the problem with federal grants, the village doesn’t have the money to repay the loan.
“We are going in the right direction. We are in the right position …,” Jaramillo said. “I think that if we do this right, we could be successful with some additional funding.
“It doesn’t end here because I know we all want the full project, so we’ll be doing this for, as according to this, the next four years,” assured Jaramillo the council as he gestured to the strategic plan outline for the village for the next five years.
Contingent on whether the village can secure the remaining $51 million to fund the $141 million first phase on the project, the village has their sights set on September 2024 to begin construction.
The village’s goal is to get the project financially constrained so they can move forward with submitting their 90 percent design to the New Mexico Department of Transportation for review.
Jaramillo said the project is essentially ready for design review process, with the fiscal side of the project being the only holdout.
“Hopefully, we can work our way through it, but it’s not a guarantee,” the mayor said.