DOT to only work with Belen on interchange

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When it comes to completing the north Belen interchange, the New Mexico Department of Transportation won't be joining the bandwagon until the funds for the project are in the bank.

From there, they will work with only city of Belen officials in moving the project forward, said Tony Abbo, a DOT assistant district engineer.

Belen city officials announced earlier this year they were working with Jim Wood, vice president of Coast Range Investments, to create an escrow account between the city and Wood, allowing the city to access the funds for the project.

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

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

"Last time what happened is (DOT) moved forward and the developer didn't have the money, so our preference right now is to deal with Belen entities," Abbo 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 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At that time, Signet Solar had withdrawn their commitment to build an $840 million manufacturing center at Rancho Cielo after being unable to secure a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to build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.

Abbo said he was contacted by Wood, who wanted to know how he could begin moving the project forward.

He advised Wood and the city to enter into an agreement together, without the DOT as was done previously, for the project and ensure the funds for the improvements were in the bank.

When Wood asked about receiving state funding, Abbo said, "Funding would have to come from them. The state wouldn't put in any more funding."

From there, the city must apply to DOT to place the project on the State Transportation Improvement Program, which is a five-year plan of the upcoming transportation projects statewide.

Once the project is approved, DOT will begin working with the Federal Highway Administration to have the project approved.

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.


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