State highway officials want Village government to take over Corrales Road, and it would solve several problems for the Village if it did, but it just won’t happen. That was the bleak, but definitive, assessment that Village Administrator Ron Curry gave to the mayor and Village Council at their April 26 meeting. If that’s reality, it has several important, far-reaching implications —for the long-planned pathway in the business district, for the speed limit, for crosswalks for pedestrians, equestrians and cyclists, and for historic buildings in the most congested stretch of Corrales Road. Village officials are scheduled to meet again with N.M. Department of Transportation May 19.
“Their proposal, if we were to take over the road, is that they would provide no maintenance whatsoever going forward,” Curry reported from the previous meeting with NMDOT. “And if we take over the road, we also have to take over the liability for it.”
Discussions about transferring State Highway 448 to the Village have taken place for more than a decade, always with the highway department anxious to get rid of it. Corrales has said it would not take the road unless the department improved it up to state standards.
But, as Curry explained it at the council meeting, what the highway department would have to do to achieve that upgrade would be unacceptable because it would probably mean widening the road right-of-way, taking a lot of private property and destroying historic structures.
In light of all that, Curry said, the Village’s take over of Corrales Road “is not going to happen.”
If the old farm-to-market road were brought up to today’s standard for a state highway, it would forever change what the central part of the village looks like. “If the highway department gives us the road or we take it over, after they brought it up to specifications, Corrales Road would never again look the way it does now.”
Mayor Jim Fahey emphasized that point. “They showed us what the road and its right-of-way would look like, using what happened in another small community where they had done that same thing, before and after.
“Before, it looked like Corrales Road does now —with two lanes, gardens, parking, orchards— and what it looks like after, with four lanes, sidewalks and wide shoulders. A totally different appearance.
“Now, they weren’t trying to scare us. They’re trying to give us the road, so they sure weren’t trying to sell the idea to us,” the mayor reasoned. “They would have made it sound very good if they wanted us to go that route.”
The rural feel of Corrales and the historic nature of community’s business district would be destroyed, he pointed out.
Councillor Stuart Murray asked whether NMDOT might be willing to grant a waiver to avoid such drastic changes, at least in the commercial area where buildings are very close to the pavement. Murray was told that is not considered a possibility.
Another councillor asked whether it would be possible for the Village to take over just the commercial area —Meadowlark Lane to Wagner Lane— and leave the remainder of State Road 448 in NMDOT ownership. He was told Village officials had asked about that, and the response was negative.
The mayor underscored the kinds of difficulties the Village faces with continued state ownership of Corrales Road. “I asked, ‘Can we lower the speed limit?’ They said, ‘Well, sure, but we would have to do a test to see how fast people drive it now. We did this before, and the last time we found that people drive it at 40 miles an hour. So you probably don’t want us to do it.’
“They said you need to be careful what you ask for because you may end up seeing an increase in the speed limit.”
Mayor Fahey said similar problems with the highway department continuously arise in trying to implement a pathway project in the commercial area. Over the past 27 years, he said, “Everybody has tried every way they can imagine to make this happen. It’s terribly frustrating.”
The narrow right-of-way has meant no space exists for a pathway along some parts of the road in the business district, such as the historic building that juts nearly into the roadway across from Perea’s Restaurant. Early on in planning for the pathway, the idea was to shift the path from the west side of the road to the east where more unobstructed space exists, and then perhaps back again at another tight location.
But that concept also ran into NMDOT opposition. “They don’t like crosswalks,” the mayor pointed out.
Councillor Zach Burkett said NMDOT might be persuaded to relax its objections since, as it stands now, it is extremely hazardous for people to walk or bike along Corrales Road in that area.
Fahey replied the same argument is made by NMDOT officials as to why it needs to insist on its guidelines for such a “pedestrian access route” (its terminology for such a pathway). The department has insisted that the path has to be a certain width and it has to be a certain distance from the pavement. “And then you have to have a buffer space between the road and the sidewalk or path.”
After listening to the discussion and the pervasive frustration, Councillor John Alsobrook concluded “We have to help them find a way to allow this kind of thing to happen.”