By Emily Crowe
CMI STAFF WRITER
A bill is currently making its way through the New Mexico Legislature that would decrease the speed limit on county roads from a default 75 mph to 55 mph.
Sponsored by Sen. Pat Woods of Broadview, Senate Bill 209, dubbed the “dirt road bill,” is aimed at increasing public safety on potentially unpaved or narrow county roads.
If a speed limit is not posted on a county road, state statute specifies the speed limit is automatically 75 mph.
“I’ve got a lot of dirt roads in my county and right now the speed limit on those roads is 75,” Woods said in a video outlining the bill. “I’m trying to lower the speed limit to 55 to be more safe, more reliable, less liability for the counties and a whole lot safer for the county residents.”
Curry County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick, who also serves as president of the New Mexico Association of Counties board of directors, said the bill is mainly an issue of safety for county residents and others traveling county roads.
“I am particularly in favor of it,” Bostwick said.
Counties would still have a right to post higher speed limits if they deem it appropriate, Bostwick said, but many counties have more roads that need a lower speed limit than those that need a higher speed limit.
“It’s a protection to our constituents,” Bostwick said, “but more so, whenever we have people traveling on our roads that aren’t familiar with where there might be a dip, or there might be an intersection they’re unaware of.”
Curry County Manager Lance Pyle said the process of lowering a speed limit requires a traffic study and posting of the new speed limit, both of which are time-consuming and costly for counties.
According to a report from the Curry County Sheriff’s Office, there were 11 accidents on county roads in 2012 and five accidents in 2013 where excessive speed was a factor.
Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Malin Parker said there has never been a huge issue with speeding on county roads in Roosevelt County, but there have been vehicular accidents where speed is a factor.
“Most people drive the roads as to the condition of the road,” he said.
Roosevelt County Commission Chairman Bill Cathey said many county roads are rough enough that people would have a hard time driving 75 mph on them, but he does not see any drawbacks to lowering the speed limit.
Cathey also said he wishes it was easier to post speed limits on county roads, but going through the necessary regulations can be a hassle.
The bill is currently being discussed in the Senate Corporations & Transportation Committee.