MANAGER ADDRESSES RURAL ROAD CONCERNS

MANAGER ADDRESSES RURAL ROAD CONCERNS

By David R. King
Doña Ana County Manager

The county receives many complaints about the condition of private roads located in Doña Ana County.

Doña Ana County maintains 1,292 miles of roads in the areas outside the cities of Las Cruces, Sunland Park, Hatch and Old Mesilla. To put this in perspective, you could drive from New Mexico’s border with Mexico north to New Mexico’s border with Colorado and then drive BACK to the Mexican border and then drive BACK to Albuquerque and still not have driven as many miles as the county maintains on an annual basis. Of the 1,292 miles of county-maintained roads, 387 miles (roughly the distance from Las Cruces to Angel Fire) are paved. Each year, the number of miles maintained by the county grows by about 2 percent, or 26 additional miles.

Even with this enormous inventory of maintained roads, there remain thousands of miles of roads in the county for which the county is not the deeded owner, even though the county often administers the rights of way. Except in cases of emergencies (such as substantial washouts, or a determination that it would be impossible for emergency vehicles to traverse the road), the county cannot legally maintain non-county-owned roads.

In most cases where a road is not county-owned, the residents along the road have responsibility for maintaining the road to mutually acceptable standards. In some cases, the original developer retains ownership and can be compelled to provide maintenance. These latter instances are rare.

The naming of roads by the county is a separate issue related to emergency response and rural addressing. All roads within the county are named – and addresses are subsequently assigned – so that calls to the Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority can be processed in the least amount of time possible. The county does not generally permit private residents to name roads. Developers who put in new roads must apply for new road names that do not duplicate road names elsewhere in the county. Most existing roads that carried names duplicated elsewhere have had their names changed by the county, again to facilitate emergency response. These functions have no bearing whatsoever on road maintenance.
Doña Ana County only accepts roads into its maintenance inventory if they are constructed or improved to existing county standards regarding width, base course and load capability, as per Ordinance 99-23. New subdivisions are required to meet these criteria, but older roads in the county must be brought up to standards by the developers or residents before the county will assume the maintenance responsibility and associated costs.

There is a method by which residents along a private road(s) can band together to improve a road (or set of roads) in cooperation with the county. If a clear majority of residents/businesses along a road(s) formally petitions the county for a Paving Assessment District, then the county can finance the road improvements over a period of years, with the residents/businesses paying back the cost of the improvements (with interest) over the financing period. The individual assessment rates are based on property footage, enhanced land value and other factors directly proportional to each property owner’s interest in the proposed road improvements. Some property owners pay significantly more than others on an annual basis to pay back the improvement costs after the improvements are made.

Successfully petitioning for a Paving Assessment District usually takes several months and requires public hearings and extensive engineering surveys and cost analyses. The county normally will not entertain a Paving Assessment District unless a clear majority of potentially affected property owners have indicated a strong desire to proceed and all affected parties have been extensively educated by staff about the implications of entering into the contract. These initiatives are costly, and it is not unreasonable to predict that individual property owners will be obligated to pay back thousands of dollars (in some cases, even tens of thousands of dollars) each year for the improvements, until the bonds are retired.

Many residents whose roads are not maintained by the county argue that they pay property taxes for services. Accessible and responsive law enforcement, fire protection, ambulance service, health care, parks, utilities, etc., are the primary services provided by the county, but all residents also enjoy access to the many hundreds of miles the county does maintain on an annual basis. Because Doña Ana County collects taxes on only 15 percent of the land located in the county (the rest is owned by the state and federal governments, which pay no taxes to the county), the extent of services cannot feasibly extend to maintaining every road, no matter how justified it may appear.

The present Board of County Commissioners is actively researching ways to enhance the Road Department’s ability to grade more roads. This is, however, an expensive proposition – in terms of man hours, materials and equipment – and actual implementation may or may not come to fruition, and if it does, it may or may not extend to all roads. The bottom line, however, is that the Commissioners understand the position in which many thousands of residents find themselves relative to unsavory road conditions throughout the county, and an exhaustive review of potential solutions is underway. Expect public meetings to be a part of the process.