The New Mexico Department of Transportation announced Aug. 21 the approval of nearly $50 million in road improvement funds for dozens of local governments.
Notably absent from the list were the city of Española and Rio Arriba County.
Local officials did not apply for the funding, despite a call for projects from the state circulating to at least six city employees and four County employees in mid-spring.
The Department letter solicited project proposals including environmental studies, planning, design, construction, and acquisition of rights of way, expanding potential options far beyond “shovel-ready projects.”
The state-funded projects required that grantees pay 5 percent of costs. The city would not have been limited by its lack of an Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan, which bars it from receiving some federal roads funds.
Forty-eight local governments and seven tribal governments received funding, some for multiple projects, according to a Department of Transportation press release. San Juan and San Miguel Counties received over $2 million and $500,000, respectively. The city of Rio Rancho received over $2.4 million total for two projects.
Rosanne Rodriguez, a public information officer for the Department, said in an email that Northern Pueblos Regional Transportation Planning Organization Program Manager Dennis Tim Salazar sent the call for projects May 9.
County Public Works Administrator Napoleon Garcia said Tuesday he was not aware that the funding was available, but that the County did receive cooperative road money from the Department for Fiscal Year 2020, which can be used to fix roads used by vehicles such as ambulances, fire trucks and school buses.
Garcia said he planned to contact the Department to learn if any funds are still available.
Then-Española Planning and Land Use director Alison Gillette received the letter April 30. She wrote in an email that she forwarded the letter to then-city manager David Valdez, Public Works Director Steven Trujillo, Grants Manager Diahann Jacquez and Streets Supervisor Elijah Mares. Gillette, now city planner, said she received no responses.
Salazar, who is also an Española city councilor, said he spoke with former city manager David Valdez about the available funds soon after they were announced. Salazar said Valdez seemed excited and said he would speak with Gillette about the opportunity.
“I let him know this opportunity was there and this was a good opportunity for us to apply,” Salazar said.
Gillette said she does not remember ever talking with Valdez about the funds.
Jacquez, whom Rodriguez said was also one of three city employees on the Department of Transportation’s original mailing list for the letter, said in an Aug. 21 interview she had not heard about the funding opportunity.
Salazar declined to comment on the topic in his capacity as Program Manager, citing Planning Organization procedure requirements on press contact.
Mares said he was somewhat aware of the opportunity at the time, but that he is not involved in grants work.
Trujillo could not be reached for comment by press time.
Valdez has been unreachable for comment since he was fired in July amid a criminal investigation by the New Mexico Attorney General.
Current interim Planning and Land Use director Richard Hubler said it is standard for their Department to forward roads-related grant opportunities to the Finance and Public Works Departments.
The city’s Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan, as to be presented to the City Council Aug. 27 at press time, includes the reconstruction of Camino Miramontes for Fiscal Year 2021 and improvements to North McCurdy Road budgeted for Fiscal Year 2022. The costs not yet funded for the projects are $1,041,500 and $1,598,000, respectively. Awarded grant funds from the state would have had to be spent by January 2024.
Española Mayor Javier Sanchez said he is disappointed by the missed opportunity. He said the $40,000 allocated to the city in state appropriations this year for grant writing will help going forward.
“We’re going to place a greater emphasis on grant management and grant writing,” he said.
SUN Staff Writer Amanda Martinez contributed reporting to this story.