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Friday, September 10, 2010
Las Cruces Hosts Key Transportation Summit
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Contributing writer Stephen Jones checks in with another report from Southern New Mexico.
The City of Las Cruces hosted a regional conference yesterday, September 9, addressing the multi-modal transportation needs of southern New Mexico and, specifically, road, rail, and air in the Las Cruces-El Paso corridor. New Mexico and Texas elected and other government officials spoke to participants, area residents and members of other interested groups about regional planning for the transportation needs of the growing region that straddles southern New Mexico and west Texas. The day-long event was co-sponsored by Congressman Harry Teague.
Local and intercity roadway needs were covered, along with current and proposed bus and rail transportation. Mass transportation advocates hope to see passenger rail and other clean transit development in a corridor whose current commuter traffic now exceeds that of the Belen-Albuquerque-Santa Fe Railrunner corridor. The theme of the conference, “Road, Rail and Rockets,” also tied into the Spaceport America project currently underway 45 miles north of Las Cruces.
Demand for Mass Transit On The Rise
There is a growing demand for mass transit options between New Mexico’s second largest city and El Paso, a commuting distance of just under 50 miles. Currently an express bus partially funded by the two states provides service daily between the two points. Ridership has tripled in the eleven months since the “Gold Line” bus service began.
Demand has been growing locally along the corridor between the two cities for a Railrunner type service. Feasibility studies are being conducted by the regional authorities, New Mexico, the two municipalities and BNSF, the railroad that owns the right of way between Las Cruces and El Paso. Passenger rail service would require an upgrade in signaling and improvements of roadbed on the current freight line. New Mexico officials called the planning initiative “furthest along” of its current rail plans for the state.
State Representative Jeff Steinborn, who has been a leading advocate for rail, urged all parties to be ready to “make an application for Federal support and funding.” He was joined in promoting the service at the summit by State Representative Nate Cote and State Senator Steve Fischmann. Texas State Representative Joe Pickett, whose district includes the western part of El Paso, joined the New Mexico legislators in urging the region to become “shovel ready.” Las Cruces Councillor Olga Pedroza urged the region to follow the model of the local El Paseo transit project. The project to develop Las Cruces’ El Paseo Avenue was one of four community projects to win a national grant for development in 2009.
Aerospace, Spaceport, Roads
Las Cruces Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Thomas, who coordinated the regional event, announced that New Mexico State University (NMSU) has also been awarded an education grant by the Federal government for air and aerospace research. The Spaceport Authority also addressed the group and outlined the shuttle services that will carry visitors between Hatch and Truth and Consequences to the space facility. Also noted was the adjoining rail line that might eventually carry travelers between Las Cruces and Albuquerque at some future date.
Rail and aeronautics were not alone on the agenda. Much of the summit was devoted to outlining current and planned road projects in the regional corridor.
Smart Planning for a Growing Las Cruces
Mayor Ken Miyagishima of Las Cruces welcomed participants to what he termed New Mexico’s “best city.” Mayor Miyagishima also noted his city’s recognized leadership status in education and pointed out the upturn in the city’s current economic outlook. Goods and services revenues are up more than 6% over a year ago, and the city is again gaining in population, leading economic indicators for Las Cruces specifically, and New Mexico generally. Along with Miyagishima, most of the participants stressed urgency in smart planning for future growth.
Among the other local elected officials addressing the summit were Councillor Gil Sorg of Las Cruces, Dona Ana County Commissioners Scott Krahling and Leticia Duarte-Benavidez and Mayor Art Franco of Anthony, Texas.
The summit is part of a series of regional meetings leading up to a larger transportation conference featuring U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that is scheduled for later this fall.
All photos by Stephen Jones. Click on photos to see larger versions. To see more posts by Stephen, visit our archive.