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Who’s in charge?

SANTA FE, N.M. — The issue came up again at a city Finance Committee meeting last week.

Though not a member of the committee, City Councilor Peter Ives was there to ask about making repairs to the rather rugged section of N.M. 475.

Most Santa Fe residents don’t know it by that name, but that’s the state highway which takes in Paseo de Peralta east from St. Francis Drive and continues all the way up to the Santa Fe ski basin.

And there lies a bigger issue. Much of Santa Fe is crisscrossed by state highways that effectively have become city streets and thoroughfares.

If the state-owned roads need repairs, that’s a state responsibility.

Ives wants money for the Paseo portion of N.M. 475 – which also takes in parts of Bishop’s Lodge, Artist and Hyde Park roads – placed on the list of Santa Fe’s priorities for state funding when the state Legislature convenes in January with the prospect of more than $1 billion in “new” money, largely due to revenue from a boom in the oil and gas industry, available for spending.

“Just the fact that the state has this revenue, it gives us the opportunity to ask for a little more,” Ives said.

Ives also added that the city could use the help in that it already has something like $150 million worth of deferred road maintenance.

With a state-owned highway, the city’s hands are somewhat tied when it comes to road repair and maintenance, snow removal and even addressing the city’s annual battle to control weeds on road medians and sidewalks, or trying to make raggedy streetscapes more appealing with new or improved landscaping.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation said Wednesday that there are agreements between the city and state addressing such things and that the city is encouraged to help when it can.

There are large sections of broken pavement along Paseo de Peralta near the intersection with St. Francis Drive. Maintenance of that section of Paseo is the responsibility of the state because it is part of N.M. 475. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

City officials say they do assist with snow removal on occasion, and work to help keep medians and sidewalks free of weeds on Cerrillos Road, a.k.a N.M. 14, another state highway. But the responsibility for repair of state-owned roads running through the city largely falls on the state.

“These roadways are critical to the city, and we want to see them taken care of and put in tip-top shape,” Ives said.

Santa Fe’s state-owned roads include, besides N.M. 475 and N.M. 14, St. Michael’s Drive and Old Pecos Roads (N.M. 466), and the N.M. 599 bypass that skirts the city’s northern boundary. While St. Francis Drive (U.S. 84/285) is a federal highway, the same road ownership issues apply there, especially this time of year when snow removal becomes a public safety issue.

“Certainly, all the councilors get calls about snow removal,” said Ives, who represents City Council District 2, which includes St. Francis Drive from Cerrillos Road south all the way to Interstate 25. “It comes down to how we prioritize these things, given limitations on equipment and capacity.”

When it comes to snow removal, I-25 is the state’s “first and most critical obligation,” Ives acknowledged. But that sometimes leaves motorists to navigate an icy St. Francis Drive after a snowfall, while other roads in the city have been plowed, and treated with salt and cinder.

Javier Martinez, the city’s streets and drainage division director, said the city often fields calls from residents about pot holes on state roads in need of repair.

“We explain to them that it is a NMDOT (the New Mexico Department of Transportation) road and give them the number to the District 5 office,” he said. “They are responsible for all maintenance of the roadway, and that includes signage, sidewalks and drainage.”

City’s interest

The city has expressed interest in acquiring some state roads running through the city – particularly Cerrillos Road north of Jaguar Drive to St. Francis, and St. Michael’s Drive from Cerrillos to St. Francis – so it can take over not only the maintenance, but also overall control of the road.

For example, a few years ago when Santa Fe was looking to create the Midtown Local Innovation Corridor, or Midtown LINC overlay district – a “redevelopment corridor” aimed at stimulating mixed-use development in the area – there was talk of reconfiguring or reducing the number of traffic lanes along St. Michael’s Drive from Cerrillos to St. Francis, and possibly creating a boulevard-like feel or to allow for on-street parking.

But that talk was muzzled “because we can’t,” former city Asset Development Director Matt O’Reilly said at the time, citing the state’s ownership of the road.

Mayor Alan Webber said that when it comes to complaints about potholes on state roads, the city has worked with the state to get them repaired as quickly as possible. But there’s more to it than patching potholes.

“There are really several different issues,” he said. “One is the maintenance and upkeep and snow removal. But there’s a larger issue that has to do with transportation being connected with adjacent land use. Those must be integrated so there’s a blending of transportation strategy, and neighborhood and land use strategy. They have to go together.”

The city has for several years been attempting to negotiate a road exchange with the state to acquire the St.Francis-to-Cerrillos section of St. Michael’s Drive.

“Part of the hold up, or a lack of agreement about how to move forward, is we’ve been looking at the problem from two different points of view,” Webber said. While the state views it as just a road, he said, “the city looks at how to make it best for land use.”

The same goes for Cerrillos Road, he said.

“Cerrillos Road is really important to Santa Fe’s future plan when it comes to land use, housing, economic development,” he said. “A lot of land-use patterns are established by the transportation that surrounds it. It’s all part of the same question as far as the city is concerned.”

The city last entered into a land exchange with the state in 1989 when the rapid growth saw it take over ownership of Airport Road, and parts of Agua Fria and Guadalupe streets.

Webber said negotiations to acquire St. Michael’s Drive have also been held up by what each side considers to be a fair exchange, given the current condition of the road.

“We can say, ‘OK, the city will take on care and maintenance.’ But what condition is it in when they turn it over to us? Are we accepting a road and also assuming a massive financial obligation?” he said.

The state Department of Transportation said in a statement that the department looks at how a road is used – whether it’s a road meant for urban use or as a highway – when considering road exchanges. It said that money would change hands when a deal is made, or reconstruction or road rehabilitation projects could be used as compensation.

DOT said road exchange agreements are rare and generally identify who is responsible for maintenance of the roadway or lighting of a roadway. Generally, NMDOT benefits from the exchange by saving on costs for repair and maintenance, and being able to allocate resources to other roads.

Webber said he’s hopeful some agreement can be reached between the city and state involving a road exchange for St. Michael’s Drive and Cerrillos Road in coming years.

“We’re about to have a new administration in the Roundhouse with a new governor, and a Democrat-controlled Senate and House. So I can imagine a lot more discussion about city-state collaborations,” he said.