Officials rail road crossings

Mike Linn

A Roosevelt County commissioner perturbed with slowed efforts to fix two Portales railroad crossings is spearheading a petition to expedite the repair process.
Roosevelt County Commissioner Dennis Lopez distributed petitions to the Portales City Council at Tuesday’s meeting seeking assistance on repairs from the New Mexico Department of Transportation and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.
“We’re trying to impress people coming into our town, but having to cross those crossings — they look like third-world countries in my opinion,” said Lopez, whose district is the city of Portales. “Everyday somebody in the community asks when will those crossings get repaired.”
Mayor Orlando Ortega said Tuesday night he would be the first person to sign the petition.
Lopez labeled the crossings on North Main Street and North Avenue B as top priorities. As of Thursday evening, Lopez estimated he’s received more than 100 signatures.
Lopez said the State Legislature appropriated the city roughly $65,000 to help fund upgrades at both crossings.
Lena Kent, a spokesperson for BNSF, said either the city, the county or the state (or all entities combined) would need to come up with roughly $300,000 to upgrade both crossings. It would cost “considerably less” to fix the crossings, Kent said.
Three years ago, when city officials first approached BNSF, the railroad company had a program which offered to pay 70 percent for the railroad crossing upgrades if municipalities pitched in the remaining 30 percent, Lopez said.
That program has been abolished, city officials say, but that shouldn’t transfer sole responsibility on the taxpayers.
“It’s the railroad’s responsibility to repair that track,” said Paul Zagone, assistant district engineer for the New Mexico Department of Transportation. “The (highway) department has already notified Burlington Northern that they need to repair the tracks.”
Said Lopez: “They’re going to (help) fix this one way or another — that’s the bottom line.”
Since North Main Street is a state highway, Zagone said his department is looking into fixing portions of road leading up to the tracks.
Kent said BNSF officials are preparing cost estimates and are in discussions about the crossings with city officials.
“My understanding is we’ve been working cooperatively with them, we’ve had dialogue, we’ve said we’d prepare the estimates and that’s what we’re doing now, so this (petition) is surprising to us,” Kent said.
City Manager Debi Lee said city officials will meet with BNSF officials on Monday in an effort to facilitate the process.