The State of Arizona’s fiscal year 2020 budget, which begins on July 1, is committing around $130 million between now and 2023 for a highway widening project connecting the city of Anthem with Black Canyon City.
The north-to-south Interstate 17 ultimately links Flagstaff with Phoenix, but that 15-mile section between Anthem and Black Canyon City has long been regarded as a too-narrow trouble spot prone to massive traffic backups, particularly on weekends.
The state’s new budget also includes $10 million for what is categorized as “preventive road surface maintenance” throughout the state, and $700,000 for the construction of a new inspection facility at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales.
The construction of a new cold room at the port, according to a press release issued from the office of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, will “improve the port’s ability to import temperature-sensitive cargo like produce and pharmaceuticals and move more goods through our ports.”
A final $3 million in the budget is targeting new broadband installation throughout rural Arizona, following up on a state blueprint released last year stating that broadband service in much of the state’s rural areas “is not only unreliable, it is also unaffordable.”
That report, the Arizona Statewide Broadband Strategic Plan, also noted that “single points of failure exist,” with “a distinct lack of redundancy, putting residents and visitors in serious danger when outages occur because critical services become inaccessible.”
By Garry Boulard
With the country’s airlines collecting a record of nearly $5 billion in baggage fees annually, Congress needs to increase the fee cap so that more money can be spent on airport facility construction and upgrading, says an industry leader.
Todd Hauptli, chief executive officer of the American Association of Airport Executives, asserts that despite the increased revenue from such fees enjoyed by the airlines, “they vigorously fight modest proposals that would upgrade airports and other aviation infrastructure.”
In a statement, Hauptli criticized the existing federal cap on such fees, noting, “We can’t meet today’s needs, let alone tomorrow’s, while maintaining a system that fails to take into account changed airline business practices and an airport financing model last updated years ago.”
According to a report just released by the federal Department of Transportation, airlines nationally collected more than $1.2 billion in baggage fees during just the final four months of last year alone.
Total bag fee collections for the entire year came in at just a little less than $5 billion.
In addition, says the DOT, another $2.7 billion was collected by airlines last year in change and cancellation fees.
Airport officials have long complained that the two decades-old federal cap on what is known as the Passenger Facility Charge, which is used to fund facility construction, is too restrictive and out of touch with the needs of today’s airports.
Projects that are typically funded by PFC revenue include new runways and taxiways, aprons, land acquisition, and noise abatement efforts.
“It’s past time for Congress to look past self-serving airline rhetoric and make meaningful changes to boost airport infrastructure investments that directly benefit the travelling public,” continued Hauptli.
The PFC is currently set at a maximum of $4.50 per passenger per flight. Some airport officials have called for the fee to be increased to $8.50.
Both the White House and Congressional leaders have said they are open to upping the fee. Earlier this spring Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said she thought the idea was worth considering, commenting in Senate hearings: “The good news is, you know, nothing is off the table.”
But the idea has also sparked the opposition of individual airlines, as well as groups like the National Taxpayers Union, which describes the PFC as “just one of more than a dozen taxes, fees, and mandatory charges that burden passenger tickets.”
Because the question of upping the PFC fee has been tied in with Congressional infrastructure legislation, a subject that analysts say is for now off the table after President Trump ceased discussions with Democrat leaders, its fate is currently regarded as uncertain.
By Garry Boulard
XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, plans to drill around 6,500 wells over a 40-year period in both Eddy and Lea counties in New Mexico.
That $55 billion in investment, which will include the building of facilities for drilling, as well as basic gas and oil extraction operations, is part of a larger $64 billion ExxonMobil is expected to eventually spend in the state.
A new report issued by the economic consulting firm of Impact DataSource additionally forecasts that ExxonMobil will spend upwards of $29 billion in New Mexico wages and benefits, creating more than 4,100 new jobs.
Eddy and Lea counties constitute a segment of the vast Permian Basin, a massive sedimentary basin which extends from just south of Lubbock to southern western Texas and finally southeastern New Mexico.
In recent years, ExxonMobil has increased its presence in the lucrative Permian Basin, adding some 22,000 acres to its portfolio through acreage trades and acquisitions.
Earlier this year the company also announced plans to up its Permian Basin oil production to around 1 million barrels a day over the next 5 years.
The company is now in the preliminary stages of building some 30 new oil and gas and water handling sites in the area.
Three months ago, members of the Carlsbad City Council voted in favor of selling for around $2 million just under 50 acres of land inside the Carlsbad Industrial Park to XTO Energy.
That land will be used for the construction of the company’s new regional headquarters.
By Garry Boulard
Work could launch on a long-desired housing facility especially designed for and serving residents with behavioral health issues sometime this coming fall.
The joint project by the group HopeWorks will see the construction of a $5 million facility that will be funded by both the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County and will go up at the site of the St. Martin’s HopeWorks complex in the 1200 block of 3rd Street NW.
Officials who have been promoting the project say it will go a long way not just in providing a targeted clientele with needed 24-hour services, but also in getting those same people off the streets.
The three-story, 42-unit complex will include one-bed spaces, with the larger complex housing a central front lobby, management office, social services provider’s office, and maintenance room.
The City of Albuquerque is committing $2 million to the building of the complex, on top of another $3 million in Bernalillo County funding.
Formerly known as St. Martin’s Hospitality Center, HopeWorks is the largest provider of services and shelter for those experiencing homelessness in Albuquerque.
Founded in 1985, the organization provides food, shelter, and a variety of services to an estimated 10,000 people yearly.
By Garry Boulard
A scheduled White House meeting between President Trump and Democrat Congressional leaders designed to discuss a possible $1 trillion to $2 trillion infrastructure bill ended before it began.
The conference had been long anticipated in Washington among leaders of both parties interested in the passage of a comprehensive infrastructure bill during the current 116th Congress.
Both Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month expressed optimism that a bi-partisan bill designed to fund work on the nation’s crumbling road and bridge infrastructure could be fashioned in a manner that might win passage in both the House and Senate.
More specific details on the proposed legislation, including funding options, were expected to be revealed during the White House meeting.
But instead the President cancelled that meeting, expressing anger over a statement made by Pelosi earlier in the day that even though she was not an advocate of launching impeachment proceeding against Trump, she believed “the President of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.”
That remark prompted Trump to cancel the meeting, subsequently telling reporters, “Let them play their games. We’re going to do down one track at a time. Let them finish up and we’ll be all set.”
Trump later said he told Democrat Congressional leaders “I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at that. That is what I do. But you know what, you can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.”
According to analysts, the suddenly cancelled meeting makes it unlikely that any infrastructure bill will be introduced in Congress any time soon.
In an earlier message sent to Congressional leaders, Trump indicated that he would be ready to get into the details of an infrastructure package only after Congress approved a pending new trade pact between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
Last week various groups calling for infrastructure legislation, including construction and transportation industry officials, announced their support of increasing the federal fuel tax to 25 cents per gallon to help fund infrastructure projects.
By Garry Boulard
In an ambitious effort to enhance many of the things that Denver residents like the most about the Mile High City, a new plan has been approved calling for the design and building of more parks and recreational facilities.
A document put together by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Game Plan for a Healthy City, underlines the importance of green space in an increasingly growing city, and calls for the strategic upkeep of what is currently some 20,000 acres of parks and urban forests within the borders of Denver.
Intended to provide a roadmap for the next two decades for Denver officials, the plan, says the document, “will guide and inform the development of specific park improvement plans, new policies and regulations to protect and expand parks, and annual management actions and capital investments to make these goals a reality.”
While the document urges a vigorous management and preservation of existing park space, it also tackles the need for additional park space in a city that has experienced explosive population growth, with the number of residents jumping from 467,000 in 1990 to nearly 720,000 today.
“From 2010-2016, the city experienced an 11 percent growth, while park space didn’t keep pace,” the document reads. “Denver’s park access of 9 acres per thousand residents is well below the national average of 13.”
Even so, the city does have up and running some 260 parks, 80 miles of trails, 10 dog parks, 29 pools, and 28 recreation centers, among other designated outdoor amenities.
The document also notes that many Denver neighborhoods do not currently have “walking access to places to experience nature,” and that the city’s mountain parks “are difficult to access for families without a car.”
A good deal of the plan’s goals are already being realized due to the passage last November of a .25 percent sales tax designed to raise at least $37 million for park building and maintenance. City officials say work is already underway not just on acquiring more land for parks and open space, but also planning out that new space.
By Garry Boulard
The first challenge for city leaders in Las Cruces was spurring activity in what was becoming an increasingly abandoned downtown area during the evening hours and weekends.
A comprehensive downtown development plan adopted by the city and the opening of a number of new retail spaces and restaurants has gone a long way in addressing that issue.
Now what to do about the lack of parking space for people enjoying the revitalized downtown?
For some time city officials have been looking at building a new downtown parking garage. As envisioned, that project would go up on city-owned land, most likely at the corner of Church Street and Griggs Avenue.
Built to accommodate up to 400 vehicles, the new garage will also have a ground floor with some space designated for retail purposes.
Moving what is anticipated to be a $19 million project forward, Las Cruces has now been slated to receive $2 million in funding passed during the recent spring session of the New Mexico State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
That appropriation will be added to another $2 million in funding the city has set aside for the project.
City officials say an effort will be undertaken to secure additional funding from different sources once the planning for the project is more fully developed.
By Garry Boulard
A plan announced by President Trump that calls for recalibrating the mechanics of admission in order to make it possible for more immigrants to be a part of the U.S. labor market is getting decidedly mixed reviews on Capitol Hill.
The plan would replace the current family-based immigration rules with a points-based system that will tilt in the direction of letting in more skilled and financially independent immigrants who can also speak English and pass a civics exam.
As proposed by the President, the plan would also create a separate program allowing some foreign students to obtain a worker visa immediately upon their graduation.
If enacted, said Trump, the plan would “transform America’s immigration system into the pride of the nation and the envy of the modern world.”
In a statement, Neil Bradley, executive vice-president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the plan is destined to spark a much needed debate on immigration law reform. “Much work remains ahead of us on several issues, including the creation of market-based temporary worker programs and responsibly addressing the unauthorized alien population in the U.S.”
While lauding Trump for “starting a discussion” on the issue, Steve Benjamin, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said any plan must include a “streamlined visa system that provides access to the agricultural, lower-skilled and high-skilled workers we need.”
Noting that the President’s plan, if enacted, would favor citizenship for the young, educated, and skilled, over others, California Senator Kamala Harris remarked: “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants. The beauty of the tradition of our country has been to say, when you walk through the door, you are equal.”
Analysts say the chances of Trump’s plan being approved by Congress in the year before a presidential election appear remote.
But Noah Smith, a finance professor at Stony Brook University, doesn’t think lawmakers should automatically dismiss the plan.
“The idea of shifting to a more merit-based legal immigration system is a good one,” writes Smith in a column for Bloomburg.com.
“Because the American public as a whole demands some sort of numerical limit on immigration,” continues Smith, “its probably good to make sure that a high percentage of those immigrants have employable skills that will allow them to thrive in the U.S., and to help the U.S. maintain its technological dominance.”
Four previous immigration reform proposals were defeated last year in the U.S. Senate, including one with strong bi-partisan support that fell short of the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
By Garry Boulard
A ten-member ad hoc committee has now been formed in Phoenix to explore the possibility of building a Latino Cultural Center designed to serve and celebrate the legacy of the city’s growing Hispanic population.
According to city documents, a new structure could cost up anywhere from $3.6 million to $4.5 million to build, while the renovation of an existing space would come in at around $1.8 million.
The city must also decide exactly where the center will be located. Current renovation possibilities under consideration include a vacant structure in the popular Roosevelt Row arts district.
Two other structures, both owned by the city, are also being reviewed.
As proposed in previous public meetings, the center would be used for cultural events, lectures, art classes, and festivals serving a demographic that currently comprises roughly 40 percent of Phoenix’s population.
Funding for the project, however, is uncertain, although nearly $1 million still available from a 2001 bond approved by voters may be tapped for the center.
City officials have also suggested that additional funding could come from individual donors, and both foundation and corporate giving.
The ad hoc committee is made up of local Latino leaders and artists, as well as three members of the local business community, and two members of the Phoenix City Council.
By Garry Boulard
A long-planned effort to build a new College of Fine Arts building on the main campus of the University of New Mexico, while upgrading other structures used by the college, could cost up to $45 million.
In a document called FY20 Capital Plan Priorities, UNM notes that it would cost around $35 million to build a new main College of Fine Arts building, and another $10 million to upgrade the more than a dozen other structures used by the school
Noting that those structures were built between 1927 and 1977, the document says: “The buildings have leaky roofs and outdated infrastructure, including power and data.”
“These factors,” the document continues, “combined with inadequate size and types of facilities, create ineffective teaching spaces as needed to support the various CFA programs.”
Because of the size and scope of the College of Fine Arts replacement and renewal effort, it is expected that UNM will seek funding in phases from the New Mexico State Legislature for the project.
By Garry Boulard
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