The campaign by advocates for free-roaming horses in the Alto area north of Ruidoso sparked action by the state Department of Transportation, but maybe not quite enough.
That’s according to Debra Wilcon, board director for the Wild Horse Observers Association.
Officials with DOT appeared before the Lincoln County Commission at the board’s November meeting, proposing to install flashing beacons signs on N.M. 48 as the most effective method of grabbing the attention of motorists, and warning them of the presence along the road of elk, deer, wild horses and other wildlife.
Commissioners asked for more information and will consider at their meeting in December whether to commit to maintaining the signs after they are installed by DOT.
In the interim, DOT crews installed several stationary routine wildlife alert signs in the safety corridor and apparently planned on temporarily bringing in radar speed signs to caution drivers if they are exceeding the limit.
But Wilcox said the unique situation in Alto and the configuration of the highway warrant the speed readers on a permanent basis. During a special commission meeting in early November, the discussion centered on those readers as an option, she said.
Wilcox stays in close contact with Tim Parker, DOT engineer in District 2 that includes Lincoln County. She wrote him last week that she drove through Alto and saw only one speed radar sign on the north side of N.M. 48, when she expected to see a second unit on the south side, “but nothing was there except the painted spot.”
She noticed a reader was installed in a low traffic area in Upper Canyon on Main Street and wrote Parker she was concerned that DOT was going to ignore “a very concerned public’s request on radar readers.”
She asked for data to support a preference for flashing beacons and said her group has data indicating the speed readers are the most effective.
“I was up there on the wildlife corridor and watched traffic for around 15 minutes on the south side, and most people are speeding coming down that roadway by Brewer’s (a gas station and convenience store) where there are no readers. Also, the area by Brewers is very congested as tourists head to the newly opened Winter Perk this weekend, with wildlife crossing there, as well,” she wrote. “I see people going so much slower when they come up into the Enchanted Forest now that the radar is on the road.”
She contended that more than 100 wild animals are killed on the road each year.
“We who requested the radar still are requesting (two) permanent speed radars, not a beacon on the north and south side of N.M. 48, and we ask that attention is paid to N.M. 220 (Airport Road), as well.
“A beacon may be good for a time when the traffic is not as much and it is very dark, but speed readers are … the best, we think, for our unique area.”
Contacted Friday, a spokesman for DOT stated that only one temporary speed radar trailer was available “at this time, but in addition, NMDOT has installed eight wildlife crossing signs at strategic locations along the corridor to alert motorists of possible wildlife in the area.”
The agency follows the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to keep the traveling public safe, the spokesman said.
The temporary radar speed trailer is in place until flashing beacons can be installed, the spokesman said, adding that, “Safety is our top priority and NMDOT would like to remind motorists to obey all posted signage and remember to drive safely.”
The situation was aggravated by the return of a herd of horses that were rounded up in 2016, then went into limbo when WHOA received an injunction stopping the New Mexico Livestock Board from selling them at auction.
A judge decided in October that they were wild horses and should be returned to Alto.