New Mexico lawmakers approve expanded overweight zones, local fuel tax

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/2/2015

Access around ports of entry in New Mexico, a local fuel tax, and speeds on unmarked county roads are among the topics of bills approved by the state Legislature.

The House voted unanimously to send a bill to Gov. Susana Martinez that would extend the overweight zone at the three ports of entry on the state’s border with Mexico. The ports are in Antelope Wells, Columbus and Santa Teresa.

Senate lawmakers previously approved the bill by unanimous consent.

Sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, SB52 would extend the zone from six miles to 12 miles for loads with a gross weight up to 96,000 pounds.

An exception would forbid the extension of the overweight zone to roads east of Santa Teresa.

It is anticipated the extension would have the largest impact on freight moving between the Santa Teresa port of entry and the Union Pacific intermodal yard, which lies just beyond the existing overweight cargo zone.

Oversize and overweight permits in the state raised $5 million in fiscal year 2014. Revenue from fees for special permits is routed to the state road fund.

The extension of the overweight zones is expected to result in increased truck traffic on the roads servicing the ports of entry, according to a fiscal impact report. The increased traffic is expected to lead to additional long-term maintenance costs.

The power of local authorities would also be expanded to limit the size and weight of vehicles using roads that pass by educational or medical facilities or on streets that are not designed or constructed for heavy trucks.

A separate bill headed to the governor’s desk would raise revenue for local roads.

House lawmakers voted 59-2 to advance a bill to authorize counties and municipalities to set a special tax on gas and diesel purchases of up to 2 cents per gallon. The Senate previously approved SB114 on a 25-16 vote.

The state’s six largest counties already have the tax authority. If signed into law, voters in the other 27 counties would need to approve the local tax.

According to a fiscal impact report, officials with the New Mexico Department of Transportation are not clear how the local option diesel tax would fit into the International Fuel Tax Agreement or if out-of-state truckers would receive the appropriate credit for payment of the local tax.

The governor has signed another bill to reorganize the state Department of Public Safety.

Previously SB95, the new law consolidates three DPS divisions into one. Specifically, the Motor Transportation Division, Special Investigations Division, and the Training and Recruiting Bureau are moved under the State Police Division.

The Senate approved it on a 31-9 vote. House lawmakers followed suit on a 54-1 vote.

Supporters say the change will improve efficiency and aid cost savings. They note that departments of public safety in other states already use the structure.

A separate provision directly affects truck drivers. It specifies that police who believe the weight of a vehicle and load is in violation of rules would be forbidden to require a driver to weigh the vehicle on a private scale.

One more bill awaiting the governor’s signature would change speeds on unmarked county roads. Dubbed the “dirt road bill,” SB125 would lower the maximum speed limit for county roads without signage from 75 mph to 55 mph.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Mexico, click here.

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