By Mary Alice Murphy
About a dozen residents of Cottage San Road met with County Manager Jon Paul Saari, Commissioner Ron Hall, Road Superintendent Earl Moore and Greg Byres of Engineers Inc. They were concerned about a set of flashing lights that had been placed at a curve on the road.
At the most recent County Commission meeting, several had expressed their dismay at having the lights intrude into their homes.
John Kavchar, one of the residents, served as the facilitator of the meeting. "I am cynical about government, but this system has worked. I got hold of Manager Saari and our commissioner, Ron Hall. Then we had a meeting with the Commission. The next day the lights were gone. County government works much better than I thought it ever would."
He asked someone to give the history of the project.
Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments director, said she would give an overview of the process, and "how I work with the county."
She said she assists local governments in the four-county area, including Grant County. "I have one contract with the New Mexico Department of Transportation, which allows my office to have a transportation planner, who does outreach, grant applications and is a liaison with the DOT."
Lucero explained that every local government entity, whether a county, municipality or water association has a participant on the Technical Advisory Group, which answers to the policy group, the SWNMGOG Board.
"When a funding opportunity comes up, we assist the entity," Lucero said. "The larger entities have their own planners, but we extensively assist the smaller municipalities and agencies.
"We do not submit an application without the blessing of the local group," she emphasized.
Moore said that the former travel planner, Traci Burnsed, had helped him gather data for the application. "She helped us with which grant and when to submit it."
Lucero said before an application is submitted, it must be approved by SWNMCOG Board.
"She may have gathered the data, but she might not have done the investigation," Lucero explained.
"We had a history of accidents at that curve," Moore said. "My idea was to use money on Cottage San Road to do a traffic control study."
Lucero said the application had to be data-driven or it would not have been awarded. "That's how projects are determined at the state level, with data."
A resident, Teresa Beall, said she would like to have the data. Moore and Saari said they had found some data but not the accident data, but would continue looking for it.
Lucero said the data would have had to be documented by law enforcement for the application to be considered.
Dr. Richard Steinzig, a resident and landowner on Cottage San Road, called the area a "wicked curve. I've never seen an accident except for cars driving off the road because of excessive speed or slippery conditions, so they fail to negotiate the turn."
"Once you had the data what alternatives were determined?" Kavchar asked.
"I wanted to get drivers' attention," Moore said.
"There's already signage there," Beall pointed out.
"They are obviously not obeying the signage, so it isn't working," Saari said.
"So a $30,000 project with flashing lights was the best way to address it?" Beall countered. "Were there any other alternatives?"
Saari noted that when he is driving, he gets used to signage, such as in school zones, but flashing lights get his attention and change his attitude.
Janet DeLoache said the area is not a school zone. "The people who live out there go the speed limit and are careful on the curves. Kids race up and down the road."
Steinzig concurred and said that bicycles, especially those riding side by side are a problem. Bicycle signage has been painted on the road, but it is not wide enough for bicycles and cars. He suggested 20 mile per hour speed limits on the curves and arrows.
"The signage is not done," Moore said. "I was waiting for them to arrive. They are here, but I wanted to hear from you."
"The county applied for the funding with the best of intentions," Lucero said. "They saw an opportunity and saw funding for this region and others.
"I'm hearing that you don't want the lights period," Lucero continued. "My question to the county is: Do you feel the lights are warranted?"
Saari said if the lights are not put up and inspected, the county will not get reimbursed for the $30,000 spent.
Moore said the Department of Transportation told the county it could move the lights and reinstall them elsewhere at the county's expense after they were inspected.
Lucero explained that the funding comes from the federal government to the state to the county. "We cannot deviate from the scope of work. To close out the project, we have to fulfill the scope of work. Once it is inspected, the county can get reimbursed. Then the county has permission to move the lights to another location, but at the county's expense."
"We have determined you don't want the lights, so then they can be moved to another county location," she said. "I will not break any state regulations."
Moore said there were other areas in the county that would be happy to have the lights.
Steinmetz clarified that the county chose the project, paid for it, took the lights down, and now have to put them back up and get them inspected in order to be reimbursed. He received a "Yes."
Moore said he has the signs and they can be put up. "I will put the lights back, but they will not go on until I know they are coming to inspect them."
Kavchar said the signage could be improved, along with more enforcement.
Larry Zimmerman said he was not sure signage would help, until someone "gets bit in the wallet." He advocated for more 30 mph signs along the roadway.
Hall said the Sheriff had indicated his willingness to patrol more often.
"We thought we were doing a good thing," Saari said. "We're here to work for the citizens."
Steinmetz said the county "has been very nice and helpful. I think this was an error in judgment."
Zimmerman asked if there were a possibility of funding for road widening, so bicycle lanes could be added.
"If there is enough easement, and we are resurfacing the road, we can widen it and can shift the center line when repainting," Saari said.
"I want to reiterate how happy I am with the results," Kavchar said to nods of agreement from other residents.