New Mexico Voices: Improvement needed for NM Highway 550

Steve Lotkin
Special to The Daily Times
A decorated cross is seen in this file photo near mile marker 130 south of Bloomfield on U.S. Highway 550. It marks the area where a family of four was killed in a crash in a southbound lane.

Now is the time for all of us in New Mexico to contact our legislative representatives and request additional studies from the NMDOT to look into improving N.M. Highway 550. The amount of traffic has increased considerably over the past years, especially during the spring and summer months due to tourism in the state. This highway needs to be a divided highway for improved safety. Numerous unnecessary accidents that have occurred on the highway could have been prevented.
The idea of leaving Highway 550 as it is currently has numerous deficiencies. The highway's deficiencies have led to numerous accidents and some fatalities. Create a website for anyone to visit and to offer their concerns about the current Highway 550. This project can be estimated to be accomplished in three or four phases and perhaps four to five years for completion.
The first phase of the project would be west of Bernalillo to Cuba. This is approximately 65 miles, and this portion of the project could take 18 to 24 months for completion. Consider planning for six overpasses where needed to get into the different tribal lands, state parks and BLM land. There are several tribal reservations that would also be accessible for tourism.
The second phase would be from Cuba to Counselor. The distance is approximately 33 miles and could be estimated for completion in 12 to 15 months. Consider up to four overpasses where needed to get into the different tribal or BLM lands. Mesa de Cuba Badlands, Cuba, is approximately 10 miles west of Cuba (off Highway 550) and there are no signs advertising its existence for all to visit.
The third phase would be from Counselor to Bloomfield. The distance is approximately 55 miles and could be estimated for completion in 18 to 24 months. Consider up to four overpasses where needed to get into the different tribal lands or BLM land. One state park is the Angel Peak Badlands, which is very unique in its own right. There is only a small sign indicating the turnoff. The well-known Chaco Culture National Historical site does have signage for directions and is a distance from Highway 550.
This project would include the numerous different signage (stop signs, yield signs, one-way direction signs, ramp speed reduction, highway speed limits, signs for state and federal parks, BLM land, no public exit ramps and overhead street lighting for improved visibility. This would also be an opportune time to add fiber-optic cables for Internet access, as well as adding cell phone towers. 
There is sufficient state land on either side of the highway to build a divided highway. Solicit with the different national businesses to build convenience stores (fuel and food) and include the Indian tribes to run these businesses. This would create jobs for the tribal residents and include training for construction and retail operations. The NMDOT and federal department of transportation can discuss with the various Indian tribes money allocated for each of the improvements. Our own drivers, as well as visitors coming to our state, deserve a safer highway. 
Steven Lotkin is a resident of Las Cruces.