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Saturday, March 15, 2003

Drivers Could Take Pinto Highway to Pinto Highway

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
    If House Joint Memorial 61 were to pass and Senate Joint Memorial 29 were to fail, it might be possible to describe a location in western New Mexico as being "at the intersection of Senator John Pinto Highway and Senator John Pinto Highway."
    The curious confluence of proposals to name a new road after Pinto while dropping his name from another road comes about like this:
    Pinto, a Democrat from Tohatchi, already has a stretch of NM 264 named after him. That stretch of road leads from U.S. 666 at the town of Yah-Ta-Hey in McKinley County west to the Arizona state line and into the Navajo Nation, of which Pinto is a member.
    The Senate memorial would scrap that designation and make that stretch of NM 264 "Code Talker Memorial Highway" in honor of the Navajo Marines who developed and used a Navajo language code during World War II.
    The House memorial would name U.S. 666 (commonly known as the Devil's Highway) after Pinto. U.S. 666 passes through Yah-Ta-Hey and intersects the current Senator John Pinto Highway.
    State Rep. Ray Begaye, a Democrat from Shiprock, introduced the U.S. 666 memorial (along with another one that would renumber the road) because Pinto is a veteran legislator, a champion for highway building and road improvements across the Navajo Nation and a military veteran.
    "Everybody on the Navajo Nation knows who he is," Begaye said.
    Pinto, a code talker himself, introduced the Senate memorial to replace his name on NM 264 with the code talker designation. Doing that, Begaye said, would connect NM 264 with Arizona 264, which has already been designated "Code Talker Memorial Highway" in Arizona.
    Legislative memorials are requests or expressions of intent rather than proposed laws, and their passage does not always result in the sought-after change. And in the case of naming highways in New Mexico, they have only the effect of requesting that the state highway commission take an action.
    The New Mexico Highway and Transportation Department is already at work preparing a request to the national body that numbers U.S. highways to drop 666 and give that highway a number that is not associated with Satan in the Bible.
    Naming the road is in New Mexico's hands, and specifically in the hands of the appointed members of the highway commission.
    "As to naming, we can name a highway anything we want," said highway department spokesman S.U. Mahesh. "But that is up to highway commission."