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City in 2021 saw infrastructure advances, struggles with trails

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Milled asphalt pours into a trailer as a pavement rehabilitation project gets underway Oct. 12 on East College Boulevard between North Main Street and North Atkinson Avenue. The $400,000 project was split between the city of Roswell and the New Mexico Department of Transportation. (Daily Record File Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Infrastructure projects came to the forefront in Roswell in 2021 with the city allocating $9 million in its fiscal year 2021-22 budget for street work. The city also completed the expedited construction of a new landfill cell.

Several large street projects were conducted throughout the year, with one of the largest on North Atkinson Avenue continuing into the spring.

That $1.4 million project, which started in October, is replacing pavement to a depth of 18 inches, repairing curb, guttering and ramps and is adding sidewalks from East Second Street to Cherry Street. The New Mexico Department of Transportation funded $1 million for the project in a competitive bidding process from projects throughout the state.

Conducted in several phases, the project is expected to be completed in April.

The most recently completed project is the bridge near the intersection of South Lea Avenue and West Deming Street. The $1.2 million project replaced the original bridge constructed in 1938. Originally expected to be completed by the end of September, the work was delayed by heavy rains at the end of May through July.

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The New Mexico Legislature appropriated $800,000 toward the project, with the city paying the rest.

Also among the biggest street projects were repaving projects on East College Boulevard for $400,000 and South Washington Avenue. The Washington repaving is part of a $2.2 million project that also involves North Garden Avenue and Sunset Avenue.

The North Garden phase got underway but is delayed due to the discovery of failures in a sewer line that will require replacement. The Sunset Avenue phase of the project will begin in 2022.

The city council, in approving the budget for the streets department, set aside $500,000 to be used for resurfacing neighborhood streets. The work is not scheduled to begin until March, but $100,000 worth of projects were identified in each of the city’s five wards for resurfacing.

One of the largest projects completed in 2021 was the construction of a new 20-acre landfill cell, which was expedited when the city learned in February the cell in current use was filling at a rate that was faster than anticipated. A topographical survey indicated the cell would reach capacity in July.

The purchase of a new heavy compactor, use of GPS mapping systems and some engineering helped extend the life of that cell by several months, which proved beneficial as the heavy rains in late spring and early summer delayed the new cell’s construction.

The city saw other changes, such as the purchase and equipping of 10 new police vehicles, dropping furlough days for city employees due to better-than-expected revenue during the pandemic, passage of ordinances regulating cannabis sales and production, and taking over management of the UFO Festival, the Nancy Lopez Golf Course at Spring River and the Roswell Convention Center rather than using contracted managers.

The city struggled with some issues, including what City Councilor Jacob Roebuck called a “big failure for the city” when a transition to new utility billing software led to incorrect and delayed bills for customers.

The new software went live in December 2020 after testing earlier in the year, but encountered unforeseen issues. As city staff attempted to manually fix problems and include material explaining the issues in bills, that caused delays in the billing cycles that snowballed into March and beyond.

The city also attempted several times throughout the year to create connections between the Spring River Trail and the trails at Cielo Grande Recreation Area. The city and the Spring River Corridor Foundation have been working on connecting the trails for about four years and have been unable to do so going into 2022.

A proposal to use the alley between Wyoming Avenue and the golf course was abandoned but reconsidered in different variations including building the connection on the golf course grounds. Property owners on Wyoming Avenue had raised concerns about their loss of privacy and access to their property through the alley.

A plan to use Mississippi Avenue seemed to be on its way to making the connection after the council approved the concept in September. However, in October, a necessary step to designate the west side of the street as a no-parking zone met resistance from residents, convincing enough of the council members to vote it down, ending that option.

Two other options still remain possible but are not under current consideration. One would build a trail from the southwest portion of the Cielo Grande trail along an old runway of the old municipal airport west to Sycamore Avenue and connect with the trail in the J. Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary, which connects to the Spring River Trail. A second option would follow the same runway for a shorter distance and then cross West Eighth Street to continue on the south side of the street along the golf course to the bird sanctuary.

The city has applied for funding through the New Mexico Department of Transportation to fund either of those options. If approved, the money would be available in fiscal year 2023.

The Roswell Adult Center saw a drop in usage when several organizations in June said they would no longer be able to meet there due to increased rental rates the city imposed at the beginning of the year. The new rates were created as part of the city’s cost recovery plan for the Recreation Department. The Adult Center is expected to generate half of its annual operating costs of about $212,000.

The Pecos Valley Quilters in June said they would not be able to afford the $40 an hour rate for the room it had met in for 35 years, but was later able to negotiate use through the end of the year as it had paid its previously agreed annual rate of $500 for the year. Under the new rates, the group would have paid more than $14,500 a year.

The Roswell Astronomy Club and dance groups also looked for new meeting places, citing the higher rates.

In August, with the center’s staff down to two people, the city reduced the operating hours of the Adult Center to one day a week, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m Wednesdays. Those hours remained in place at the end of the year and into 2022.

The city said, however, it is determined to keep the Adult Center open. Among the proposals in the city’s master list of projects submitted to the New Mexico Legislature for possible appropriations in the Infrastructure Capital Improvements Plan is $235,000 for improvements at the Adult Center.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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