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Thumbs up to city jurisdiction over road maintenance

The are large sections of broken pavement along Paseo de Peralta near the intersection with St. Francis Drive. Photo shot in Santa Fe, Wednesday November 28, 2018. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Some Santa Feans, knowing city government’s historical tradition of tolerance for long-lived potholes, may not have celebrated after seeing recent headlines about plans for the city to take over maintenance of more pieces of state highways that run through town.

The agreement with the state Department of Transportation will put under city control about 7 miles of major thoroughfares, including Cerrillos Road from Beckner Road, near I-25, all the way in to St. Michael’s Drive; virtually all of St. Mike’s, from Cerrillos to Old Pecos Trail; and Old Pecos Trail from St. Mike’s to Rodeo Road.

Is this good news? We say ‘yes.’

Remember, there has been considerable consternation with the state when it comes to road work in Santa Fe.

When Santa Fe was slammed with a series of big snowstorms in the winter of 2018-19, there was little evidence of timely snow removal on major Santa Fe streets under state control. Drivers who had to leave their homes were left to navigate such major roadways as St. Francis Drive – a.k.a U.S. 84/285 – which were unplowed and untreated with anti-icing agents.

The same thing has happened for decades. The DOT always says its first priority during winter storms is to make interstates as safe as possible. That’s understandable, but the fact is that safety on the state capital’s most important in-town roadways always took a back seat.

With the transfer to the city of more roadway (although not St. Francis), Santa Fe will be adding additional equipment, including another snow plow and a new street crew, city officials say.

The change also gives Santa Fe more control over streetlights at a time when the city is undertaking replacement of thousands of them with energy-efficient LED models and efforts are being made to make the lights as “dark sky”-friendly as possible.

But what about the condition of the roadway pavements?

Notoriously, the state neglected two major Santa Fe streets – St. Mike’s east of Cerrillos (N.M. 466) and a portion of Paseo de Peralta near downtown (part of obscure N.M. 475) – for years before they were finally repaired in 2018.

Paseo de Peralta was full of chunks of cracked pavement. Driving on St. Mike’s was like taking on the dirt entry road to Chaco Canyon in full washboard mode. There was gossip that somebody in state government was out to get Santa Fe.

City Hall confirmed last week that the city will in fact be taking over resurfacing, and repairs of potholes and cracks on the roadways being transferred from the state.

That’s good news. Mayor Alan Webber commendably made pothole repairs a major initiative early in his term and the city touted filling 1,000 potholes in a month. Sustained success on this front is hard to quantify, but it’s hard to see local government ever letting streets get as bad as state government did in recent years.

The latest planned road transfers are part of a longstanding deal with the state resulting from state construction of the N.M. 599 bypass. Parts of about 15 roads have become the city’s responsibility after the state made (sometimes long deferred) upgrades.

So far, there’s been no discussion of whether the city’s expanded jurisdiction over pieces of state highways can open doors for such things as the dream of some city planners to turn St. Mike’s into a narrower road with more landscaping, a boulevard feel, dense urban housing and small shops.

Street conditions are a local issue. As long as Santa Fe can find the financial resources to do the work, it’s best for local government to be in charge of roadway maintenance. Complaining to DOT about a Santa Fe street appeared to be as effective as punching a pillow.