Interstate 40 has long been a trade route for goods from California’s shores to travel to growing markets in Texas, the South, the Midwest and beyond. Bernalillo and Sandoval counties are aiming to be a more useful hub for that movement of goods.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded Bernalillo County $974,000 to plan, study and begin designing an I-40 Tradeport Corridor. GLD Partners of Scottsdale, Arizona, has been contracted to plan the project, Sandoval County Manager Wayne Johnson said.

Albuquerque’s metro area is a small piece of a much longer I-40 trade route plan that begins at California’s port of Los Angeles, then travels through Kingman and Winslow, Arizona, before reaching the Albuquerque area.

New Mexico’s U.S. senators, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, welcomed the announcement.

“I-40 connects New Mexico communities and businesses to some of the largest markets and trade opportunities in America. I’ve been proud to advocate for and now welcome this strategic federal investment to modernize the I-40 corridor,” Heinrich said. “This funding will help prepare the whole region for more clean and electric delivery vehicles on the road and maintain New Mexico’s central position in our nation’s supply chain and shipping network.”

Over the next year, the USDOT RIA will help accelerate project delivery through a variety of ways, including project planning, studies and analysis, and preliminary engineering and design work. Initial seed funding to support the I-40 TradePort Corridor planning phase is $974,000. With the USDOT Build America Bureau, the I-40 TradePort will review the use of various agency financing programs to support infrastructure investment at the Corridor’s key hubs.

“Our state trade ports and interstates serve as major trade hubs in New Mexico – delivering goods, supporting jobs, and driving economic growth across the southwest,” Luján said. “I’m proud to have supported the RIA designation for I-40. This designation and partnership with USDOT will help fuel economic opportunities and expand clean energy infrastructure in New Mexico.”

The I-40 Tradeport Corridor project is meant to simplify the country’s supply chain and ease the backup of goods at the Port of Los Angeles by creating trade ports that can move those goods inland faster, Bernalillo County Executive Development Officer Marcos Gonzales said.

The importance of a functional supply chain was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic when a crippled supply chain created shortages of a wide range of goods.

The coalition also includes the Port of Los Angeles, Kingman, Arizona, and Winslow, Arizona. Each of the RIA recipients will sign cooperative agreements with the Build America Bureau and establish work plans to bring their proposals to fruition. For more information on the RIA program and to learn more about the Build America Bureau, click here.

The plan in the Albuquerque area is to build a fueling station for hydrogen- and electric-powered vehicles and to build warehouses for goods transported along I-40. The money from the USDOT’s infrastructure accelerator program is essentially seed money for developing the infrastructure project.

“The thing that’s really driving it is California throwing down the gauntlet of, by 2035, all trucks need to be not using petro fuel in the state,” Gonzales said. “So that’s really pushing a lot of shippers.”

I-40 is already an active shipping route. In 2017, 47,000 tons of commodities came through New Mexico along I-40, according to a freight analysis framework created by the Federal Highway Administration’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The freight analysis predicted that by 2050, 86,000 tons of commodities will travel through the Land of Enchantment along I-40.

The funding application to the Department of Transportation proposed a 6,000-acre facility with warehousing and distribution space built through a public-private partnership, Gonzales said. Locations are still being scouted.

“We are pleased to expand the Regional Infrastructure Accelerator program to 24 regions, helping communities build capacity and get much-needed transportation projects underway,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “DOT partners with these regions to help them secure financing and develop in-house expertise for innovative delivery of regionally significant projects.”

Growing a region

Rio Rancho is one of the fastest growing communities in New Mexico. But, Johnson said, “68% of Rio Rancho residents cross the river every day to go to work,” creating a job imbalance west and east of the Rio Grande.

Johnson believes the corridor project could keep more people working west of the river and grow both metro areas by creating jobs with a similar economic value on the west side of the river.

The project could create jobs in warehousing, distribution, clean energy, manufacturing and support industries like retail, Gonzales said.

“It also becomes attractive for investors, so I’m talking about manufacturers coming here,” Johnson said.

The Tradeport Corridor is the first time the two counties and Los Lunas have collaborated on a project of this scale, demonstrating the way Los Lunas and Rio Rancho are increasingly tied economically to Albuquerque. Altogether the three entities have spent $124,500 to prepare and submit the application for the Regional Infrastructure Accelerator program, Johnson said.

Just 20 minutes south of Albuquerque, Los Lunas has seen tremendous growth over the past 20 years, said village Senior Economic Developer Victoria Archuleta, attracting a Meta data center, a large Walmart distribution center and a soon-to-be a 600-employee Amazon warehouse.

“The long-term vision is to also incorporate Los Lunas as an additional vein off of that I-40 artery to connect into other parts of New Mexico and even eastward into parts of Texas,” Archuleta said.

NM Highway 6 runs east to west through Los Lunas and connects to I-40 northwest of the village. Los Lunas also has a BNSF Railway spur connected to a 1,400-acre property waiting for development.

“We’re not a sleepy little town anymore, because I think for a long time we were considered just a bedroom community,” Archuleta said, “and that is not the case at all.”

Doña Ana County received a similar grant for $1.1 million last year for developing a logistics hub on the Interstate 10 corridor. Bernalillo and Sandoval counties will be looking to work with Doña Ana to push for more federal funding for the projects, Gonzales said.

Companies don’t necessarily look at government boundaries when they decide where to invest, he said.

“They just look at what is going to make a good location fit for them, whether it’s actual location, the workforce pieces. We as communities need to start banding together,” Gonzales said.