Coast Range to pay for interchange

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The Rancho Cielo developer will foot the bill to complete the north Belen interchange leading to the 6,000 acres of land between Belen Business Loop 13 and Los Lunas.

Belen city officials are working with Jim Wood, vice president of Coast Range Investments, to create an escrow account between the city and Wood, which would allow the city to access the funds for the project.

Finishing the Interstate 25 interchange at exit 195 in Belen is estimated to cost between $4.8 and $5.2 million, Wood said.

"We're very excited to be able to have the interchange done," Wood said.

The construction on the interchange is scheduled to begin in September.

If the total cost for the interchange is more than what is placed in the escrow account, a financial assurance will be added into the escrow agreement between the city and Wood, requiring Coast Range to come up with the remaining amount, said Steve Tomita, the city's economic and development director.

"We need to make sure we're covered if there is insufficient funds," Tomita said.

The interchange, a three-legged system, will be converted to a diamond interchange giving access to the west side of I-25, where Rancho Cielo is located, and easier access along north and southbound directions on the interstate, Wood said.

These interchange improvements are needed to attract potential companies to develop in Rancho Cielo, where Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad officials said they plan on building a multimodal logistics center, including distribution, warehousing and manufacturing facilities.

"We're working diligently with Burlington Northern to bring in new users at the investment site," Wood said. "Our main goal is to bring jobs to Valencia County and Belen — that's the reason why we're doing this."

Last week, city officials withdrew an application for a federal grant, Transportation Improvement Program funds, to the Mid-Region Council of Government to cover the cost of the interchange's construction, Tomita said. Although funding isn't needed, the city's TIP application still needs to be approved to allow a private entity, Wood, to complete the project and be added to New Mexico Department of Transportation's schedule of upcoming statewide projects.

"It allows us the authorization to move forward toward building the interchange," Tomita said.

Once the escrow account and funds are in place, Tomita said the state can accept the TIP application allowing construction to proceed.

About two months ago, Belen city officials applied for the federal grant after Wood requested they do so. But after submitting the application, Tomita said, he was told by MRCOG representatives those funds would not be available until 2017.

Coast Range then said they would step up to fund the project. They will be developing a financial plan to outline how they will fund developing the site's infrastructure, which they said they couldn't fund if they paid for the interchange themselves, Tomita said.

Funding includes updating traffic plans and an environmental study, Wood said.

In 2007, legislators appropriated $1 million for the project and an additional $3 million in 2008 to plan, design and construct improvements to the North Belen interchange.

Although the state had began constructing the interchange, they later packed up and left when the developer said he would wait to contribute his share to the project, about $4 million, until a user or company agreed to build on Rancho Cielo land.

At that time, Signet Solar had withdrawn their commitment to build an $840 million manufacturing center at Rancho Cielo after being unable to secure a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to build the plant.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.