Commissioners direct federal money to Cannon gate road

Sharna Johnson

Curry County Commissioners voted Tuesday to direct federal road money toward Cannon Air Force Base’s south gate instead of closing Curry Road R as previously planned.

Voting 3-2 — with Caleb Chandler and Dan Stoddard in opposition — the commission will seek bids to improve access from State Road 467 to Cannon Air Force Base’s south gate

The vote came after commissioners approved an agreement to use nearly $974,000 federal money for county road projects.

Commissioner Frank Blackburn said Cannon has expressed concern about access to the gate where all delivery trucks into the base are directed and traffic has increased with construction.

With increased development on the south end of the base, the gate traffic is expected to rise, he said.

Along with needing three lanes, an area is needed near the gate where trucks can turn around and return to the road, he said, when they are denied entrance to the base.

Though originally requested to assist the county in closing Curry Road R, a staffer for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Diane Ventura, told commissioners they could use the money for any county road project with no hard feelings from the senator.

But she said there it is unlikely the federal government will be able to get them any more money for future projects.

Discussions of closing Curry Road R and creating an alternative route along Curry roads T and S, have been ongoing for more than two years, with Cannon pushing for the closure because of security concerns centered on the rod’s position along the base perimeter.

“Closing Curry Road R is millions of dollars away,” Blackburn said, noting he didn’t think the commission should spend the money on preparing Curry Road R for closure.

“The county commission doesn’t close roads, it’s the viewer’s committee.”

Chandler said he believes the county should do the project it told congress it was planning to do when the money was requested.

He suggested the county use the money to prepare the alternative route by paving the planned segments of Curry roads T and S.

“(Cannon’s) priority is to do whatever needs to be done to get Curry Road R closed for security purposes,” he said. “If you do the alternative route, then we can decide if we want to close Curry Road R.”

Commissioner Bobby Sandoval disagreed.

“We don’t have the money (to complete the Curry Road R project) and we have no idea where we’re going to get the money,” he said.

“I can’t see that that’s going to help us at all in getting Curry Road R closed.”

Residents near the base have opposed closing Curry Road R because some said they would lose access to their property or be asked to sell and traffic would increase along the proposed alternate route.

Attorney Mark Sweetman, representing Sam Snell, told commissioners that state law does not allow the county to close a road unless the road is no longer needed or the cost of maintaining a road exceeds its value to citizens.

We think the process (you’re using to) seek to close Curry Road R is not the proper process,” he said.

Resident Doug Reid told commissioners they had not done the appropriate research on the closure.

“How can you even think about closing that road when you haven’t even talked to one of those land owners?” he asked. “It looks to me like you need to take care of that problem at the south gate, and then (look at Curry Road R).”

County Road Superintendent Chris Pacheco said initial estimates place the improvements to the south gate around $1.2 million but he believes some adjustments can be made to bring it closer to the amount of money the county has.

County Manager Lance Pyle said the job will have to be bid because the road department can’t take on the project with its existing workload.