From the very beginning, it was understood that road access would be a key component to plans to build a commercial spaceport on desert land near Upham. That's why part of the funding for the project was to come from GRIP II a highway project that former Gov. Bill Richardson had named after himself.
There were to be two roads a northern road coming in from Truth or Consequence and a southern road coming from Hatch. The southern road is critical for Las Cruces to reap the full benefits of the spaceport, and was among the selling points made when voters here agreed to a pass a sales tax hike to supplement the funding for Spaceport America.
The northern road is now paved all the way to the spaceport.
Meanwhile, the southern road has hit another pothole. Sierra County commissioners, who in 2010 reached a joint agreement with Do-a Ana County and spaceport officials on construction of the southern road, are now balking at the prospects of living up to their end of the deal.
The agreement called for the spaceport to bear most of the cost of constructing the road, and Do-a Ana County to provide in-kind engineering services. Once built, both counties would be responsible for maintenance.
To reduce potential future costs, Sierra County is now demanding that the elevation of the road be raised, adding $6 million to a project that was already in need of an additional $3 million to cover unexpected costs.
Do-a Ana County commissioners have asked staff to sort out possible options to be presented later this month. One option already floated is to pave as much of the road as funding will allow, and then finish the rest later, when and if the money becomes available.
We can shake our collective fists at Sierra County, but this is our problem. They have their access road. It is our economy that will suffer if the southern road does not get completed.
County officials have acted appropriately in seeking out all possible options as quickly as possible. Our legislative delegation, which is heavily invested in this project, also needs to be involved, as does the Spaceport Authority. A road halfway to the spaceport is not an acceptable option.
Progress on the spaceport, and on the spacecraft that will soon launch from there, is advancing. We need a resolution on the southern road before the first Virgin Galactic passengers blast off.