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Area legislators support US 380 changes


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Several area state legislators are supporting a bill prefiled for the 2019 session that seeks $15 million over five years to address safety concerns with a portion of U.S Highway 380 that have resulted in restrictions on large trucks and, according to some, hampered Chaves County businesses and Lincoln County ranchers and farmers.

“There are local merchants and local ranchers who depend on that highway to sell their goods and supplies and to ship their cattle to market,” says New Mexico District 59 Rep. Greg Nibert (R-Roswell). (Submitted Photo)

“It is not a route that would see a lot of interstate traffic, truck traffic in particular,” said District 59 Rep. Greg Nibert (R-Roswell). “But there are local merchants and local ranchers who depend on that highway to sell their goods and supplies and to ship their cattle to market.”

Nibert is part of a legislative group that includes District 66 Rep. Phelps Anderson (R-Roswell) supporting House Bill 223 and House Joint Memorial 3 sponsored by District 58 Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell).

The bill requests $15 million from 2020 to 2025 to pay for studies, engineering designs and reconstruction of curves in the road from Carrizozo to Hondo so that trucks greater than 65 feet could travel on them. Any money not used for the project would be returned to the state’s general fund.

Their efforts follow years of controversy over the road, but received impetus from an August resolution passed unanimously by the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners to support legislation to “correct safety issues” for the portion of the road passing from Carrizozo to Hondo while also “maintaining preservation steps for historic Lincoln.”

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Since at least 2001, New Mexico Department of Transportation has placed restrictions regarding that stretch of the highway, which in total — as it runs through the state — is about 687 miles long. A July “geometric and safety analysis” confirmed the continued need for restrictions, said Transportation Department spokesperson Manon Arnett.

“I believe there are nine curves between (Carrizozo) and Hondo that they (Transportation Department staff) believe are deficient in allowing trucks exceeding 65 feet in length to negotiate,” Nibert said, adding that not everyone agrees with that assessment.

Nibert said that some Roswell business people, including those who have store locations in Capitan and those involved in livestock auctions, have said that the restrictions make it difficult and more costly to do business. Lincoln County and Socorro County ranchers and farmers also have told Nibert that they have been cited by police when trying to ship their livestock or goods to market.

He said one cattle rancher was advised of alternate routes that would entail “only” about 80 more miles.

“Well, there were three cattle trucks,” said Nibert. “That’s $80 per cattle truck … that is a pretty substantial amount of money that would be out of the rancher’s pocket to increase that distance. Not only that, but you have additional time and, I guess, shrinkage of the cattle because they don’t eat or drink during the trip.”

He added that there have been complaints that smaller haulers have a difficult time obtaining the same permits that commercial truckers have received to allow them to use the route.

Elaine Allen, a Lincoln County commissioner who voted for the ordinance, said she also wants to ensure that whatever occurs in no way harms the historic buildings and the tourism economy of the town of Lincoln, which is well known for being the origin point of the Lincoln County wars and for the site of the jail where Billy the Kid was imprisoned and from which he escaped.

The town has an official historic district with several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Allen said that excessive truck traffic could harm the older buildings, but Nibert said that the curves identified as safety concerns are not in Lincoln, so no reconstruction of U.S. 380 would occur there. He also said that studies have indicated that truck traffic will not harm the buildings as long as the trucks obey the slower speed limits in effect for the town.

“We are trying to be responsive to the requests of the folks in Lincoln County” he said, “and trying to be responsive to the folks here in Chaves County who are trying to keep their stores open and trying to keep prices from being increased if they have to send their trucks through Ruidoso and other points.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

Measure to create air authority among bills pre-filed

Roswell Daily Record

Another pre-filed bill for the 2019 legislative session seeks once again to give the city the ability to create an independent air authority to govern the Roswell International Air Center.

House Bill 229, the “Regional Air Center Special Economic District,” is sponsored by District 58 Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell), one of the lead sponsors of the 2018 legislation that passed both the House and Senate with large margins before being vetoed by then-Gov. Susana Martinez, who had concerns with several provisions of the bill.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said in prior interviews that she intends to support such legislation if it reaches her desk.

The second push for the legislation, initially propelled by a task force created by the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., has received the support of both the Roswell City Council and the Chaves County Board of Commissioners.

But Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh has expressed concerns about whether the air center can support itself financially if governed separately from the city and if appropriate “exit strategies” have been developed should the independent authority prove untenable.

Two economic feasibility studies in 1998 and 2017 on Roswell’s air center, which became city-owned in 1967 after the closure of the Walker Air Force Base, have recommended an independent governing board separate from the city government so that marketing, business development and organizational decisions would be untied from political processes.

As currently written, the 2019 legislation would apply to any city or county in New Mexico with an airfield that once belonged to a U.S. military branch.

The bill would allow for the formation of an air authority comprised of five to nine non-elected officials from the cities and counties surrounding the airfield. It also would give the air authority several rights, including the ability to issue revenue bonds, impose liens, hire employees and exercise eminent domain authority to take ownership of private property within its jurisdiction in exchange for payment.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.