Cash-strapped New Mexico considers shuttering 13 rest stops

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | 4/23/2010

A $150 million budget shortfall over the past three years has forced the New Mexico Department of Transportation to consider cutting 13 of its 32 critical rest stops.

This isn’t welcome news for truckers traveling through the state who rely on these rest stops to take their 10-hour breaks. One seasonal rest stop is also on the chopping block in New Mexico.

Mark Slimp, spokesman for the NMDOT, said the agency is very sensitive to the needs of the traveling public, which includes truckers. He said the agency “held the line” as long as they could, adding that this “isn’t a done deal and nothing is carved in stone.”

“If our finances bounce back, maybe this doesn’t become an issue,” he told Land Line on Friday, April 23. “We would really like to avoid this. And if we have to, we may even cut down the list of the ones we are looking at.”

Over the past three years, Slimp said the state DOT has lost approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of its funding, which amounts to about $150 million. The major sources of funding for the agency include a state tax on gasoline and special fuels, including diesel, and a 3 percent tax on vehicles purchased in the state. According to Slimp, the agency is predicting the same loss over the next three years.

“We are aware of the needs of truckers and the general traveling public. But if we don’t have the money, we just plain don’t have the money,” he said. “We are a small, financially challenged state.”

Slimp said it costs between $120,000 and $150,000 to maintain each site.

OOIDA Member Jerry Pike of Grants, NM, said that shuttering rest stops puts a lot of pressure on truckers already struggling to find places to stop and rest.

“It’s a safety issue for us,” Pike told Land Line on Thursday, April 22. “We can’t just stop anywhere. For regular travelers, having to stop at a local gas station may not be a big inconvenience, but for truckers, it isn’t a good choice.”

The age of some of their state-run rest stops also plays largely into the decision about whether to keep some of them open. Most of them were built in the 1960s and 1970s, Slimp said, and many need updating that the state simply can’t do.

“Unfortunately, if we have to rebuild some of them, we would have to escalate from basically a septic tank service to wastewater treatment because the EPA has changed the requirements,” he said.

He estimates that upgrading some of those rest stops could cost around $500,000 apiece.

“We are exploring a lot of things simultaneously, which is why I say this isn’t a carved-in-stone decision,” Slimp said.

Another state that recently announced it was considering rest stop closures is New Jersey, which may close two to save an estimated $270,000 per year.