EDITORIAL: Eddy Co. roads need more than a Band-Aid, they need investment

Jessica Onsurez
Carlsbad Current-Argus

The increased demand for road repairs, reconstruction and maintenance has prompted the head of Eddy County's Public Works Department to request the addition of 20 personnel.

Fourteen of those were classified as "emergency positions." As in, the need was urgent.

The Board of Commissioners wasn't convinced. The request was tabled in favor of waiting for a July 25 budget review. 

The additional personnel would have cost the county about $1.3 million in recurring costs. There's no doubt that fiscal responsibility is needed.

But there is also no doubt that the word "Band Aid" has been tossed around too many times in connection with Eddy County roads. It's slipped from the mouths of politicians (local, regional and state), department heads, business owners and residents.

And it's always followed by discussions of funding. There is a predicted $11 million in surplus for the upcoming fiscal year for the county - but even that amount doesn't stretch as far as you'd imagine.

With a price tag of millions of dollars per lane mile, any investment into road improvements and upgrades will be significant. The New Mexico Department of Transportation indicated it costs $2 million per mile for a complete upgrade.

A proposed $4.3 million would have repaired about six miles of Black River Village Road - a road that has been described as "disintegrating" under the weight of industrial traffic that flows along it.

The project was tabled even though it would have used the cheapest option for repair - a chip seal. Commissioners James Walterscheid and Stella Davis were the sole supporting votes of moving forward with the fix.

What condition does a road need to be in for Eddy County's northern representatives to invest?

Some say it is best to be conservative, after all it's unclear how long the boom times will last. Others said we need investment in our infrastructure — particularly roads — to ensure the boom times continue.

The latter seems to be the smart route. And it has the added benefit of securing safety for those of us who will be traveling alongside the traffic driving the boom.

The same officials indicated it's the traffic associated with the extraction industry that is causing a majority of damage to Eddy County roads.

And the best we can do is slap a Band-Aid on it. The problem is, the number of Band-Aids that have been slapped into place are not going to hold much longer. At the last Board of County Commissioners meeting a report on road patching done by public works crews throughout the county was submitted. Those logs read like a novel that you just know is going to have a bad ending. 

The same roads appear in those logs over and over again: Old Cavern, U.S. Refinery, Four Dinkus, Illinois Camp and Black River Village. In many cases the logs indicate the patch was just a yard or two long. And in some cases the log indicates the job wasn't completed at all.

There are a little over 200 entries dating back to January of this year that include not just patching, but shoulder work, cattle guard fixes and pothole repairs.

When you yank a Band-Aaid off, it hurts like hell. Let us hope that's not the case when it comes to the hundreds of Band-Aids we've used to patch up southern Eddy County roads.

Commission Chair Susan Crockett suggested a special meeting that allows department heads to come forward with requests for funding following the next fiscal year's budget review. We suggest letting the Public Works Department - and the roads - step to the front of that line.

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