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Kintigh urges action on local highways

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Mayor Dennis Kintigh speaks to members of the Transportation Infrastructure Revenue Subcommittee, which met in Roswell Tuesday for the first of two days of hearings in the Bassett Auditorium at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. In his remarks, Kintigh spoke about street improvement projects undertaken by the city as well as the need to upgrade U.S. highways 285 and 380. (Alex Ross Photo)

Mayor Dennis Kintigh spoke to legislators in Roswell Tuesday, where he highlighted local infrastructure projects within the city and called on lawmakers to support efforts to repair highways in southeast New Mexico.

Kintigh spoke to the Transportation Infrastructure and Revenue Subcommittee in the first of two days of hearings in the Bassett Auditorium at the Roswell Museum and Art Center.

The subcommittee is a bipartisan committee made up of members of both the New Mexico Senate and House of Representatives to address topics related to the condition of the state’s transportation system and identify sources of revenue for projects.

A former two-term member of the New Mexico House of Representatives, Kintigh told legislators on the committee that the highways that connect Roswell to other sections of the state and to neighboring Texas are dangerous, overcrowded and in urgent need of repairs.

“Let me say without ambiguity, without any hesitation, Roswell stands with our fellow communities in southeast New Mexico with the need to upgrade the roads here,” Kintigh said.

One of the highways in great need of upgrades is U.S. Highway 285 that spans from Roswell south to the Permian Basin, an oil-rich part of southeastern New Mexico that includes Eddy and Lea counties and also spans east into parts of West Texas.

Kintigh said the oil and gas industry and Roswell residents who are employed in the oil fields often travel the highway.

“We have citizens in this town who will drive that road every day,” he said. As an example, Kintigh recounted his own experience, when before he was elected to the Legislature, he used to work in the oil patch.

Kintigh said that he used to leave his home in Roswell at 4:30 a.m. and travel south to Artesia and then travel east on Highway 82.

He said that 13 years ago, U.S. 285 was a dangerous stretch of road crowded by traffic. Today, the conditions have grown even worse as U.S. 285 has fallen into even greater disrepair.

U.S. Highway 380 that runs west to Ruidoso and east to the state line with Texas — and is known within city limits as Second Street — also needs improvements.

The two-lane section heading east of Roswell is used heavily by tourists traveling into Roswell and is important to vehicles traveling to and from oilfields.

To illustrate how traveled the road is, Kintigh told the committee that when he was heading west on 380 into Roswell from Texas on the morning of Saturday, June 22, he counted 225 vehicles traveling east on the road that has no passing lane.

“This was not a weekday, this was not a holiday, this was a nothing day and a nothing-special time of day,” he said.

Kintigh said this past Memorial Day when he was heading back from Texas to Roswell on U.S. 380, the conditions were even more perilous. At that time, the volume of traffic was so heavy, he didn’t bother to count how many cars were traveling the road because he was so focused on trying to avoid head-on collisions with vehicles in the opposing lane.

The traffic was unceasing, with vehicles often making what Kintigh described to the committee as hazardous and fool-hearty attempts to pass other vehicles that, at times, forced him off the road.

Expanding the part of U.S. 380 that runs east of Roswell to Texas is something that Kintigh said encourages lawmakers, engineers and others to explore.

State Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chair of the subcommittee, commended state Sens. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, and Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, for working in the recent legislative session to get additional revenue directed to transportation projects throughout New Mexico, especially in the southeastern portion of the state.

The state has an estimated $1.1 billion surplus, but the state has longstanding challenges when it comes to the upgrading and maintenance of their roads and with highways in hazardous conditions throughout the state.

He said the state’s gasoline tax — a prime source of funding for the upkeep of roads — has remained the same since the early 1990s, even as the needs of roads and highway systems within the state have grown.

“It lends itself to the situation where you go 30 years and nothing has changed, and you can’t have any new taxes, and we have waited so long that the gasoline tax is not going to take care of all our road needs,” Smith said.

He added the situation could soon grow worse. Smith said that in a recent hearing, representatives of the Legislative Finance Committee said that within the next 12 years, a larger share of vehicles on New Mexico roads will be powered by electricity.

Smith said currently New Mexico does not tax electric vehicles. It is a situation that will adversely impact the state’s infrastructure because it will mean less revenue coming into the state to spend on infrastructure upgrades. It will also mean less development of oil and gas, which makes up a large share of state revenue.

He said the idea that people can get improved services and infrastructure without additional taxes to pay for it is something that has to be abandoned.

“So we’ve got challenges and the only way they are going to be resolved is for everybody to be working together — the executive branch and the legislative branch working together with the Department of Transportation to resolve these issues,” Smith said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.