By Mike Linn
Covered wagons were prevalent in Portales in the early 1900s. So it’s a bit strange that Pat McCarty says she feels like she’s in one every time she crosses the railroad tracks on North Main Street.
McCarty, a Portales resident, isn’t the only one complaining.
Roosevelt County Commissioner Dennis Lopez said he fields questions every day on when the tracks will get upgraded. On Thursday, the lawmaker got an answer — by summer’s end.
City, county, state and railroad officials reached a verbal agreement on funding approximately $180,000 in upgrades at the North Main crossing and its approaching roadways.
They set June as a deadline to begin construction.
The city will put forth $65,000, either in funds or in-kind services, the New Mexico Department of Transportation will allocate $75,000 or more and after negotiations officials with Burlington Northern Santa Fe said they would allocated $40,000.
Initially, officials were seeking more money from BNSF, and BNSF officials were hoping to allocate less.
“Because of the fact I don’t know how BNSF works financially, I expected more from them, but any money they provide is good,” Lopez said.
Two years ago, BNSF had a program where they offered to pay 70 percent for the railroad crossing upgrades if municipalities pitched in the remaining 30 percent, Lopez said.
Months later, the state Legislature allocated $65,000 to fund the city’s share of the costs. By that time, however, BNSF had done away with the program.
“We kind of got flimflammed on this,” Sen. Stuart Ingle said.
Colleen Deines, BNSF’s manager of public projects, said the program was intended to be short-lived.
“Unfortunately that was some time ago and that program does not exist,” she said.
Deines and John Shurson, assistant director of public projects, initially said they would allocate $7,000 to the project.
“We don’t have the funds,” Deines said.
But a state official reiterated the fact that the railroad belonged to BNSF, and its their job to make upgrades.
“Railroad policy (regarding upgrades) may not meet state law,” said Henry Gonzales, a railroad and utilities and relocation agent for the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
But after some brokering by Mayor Orlando Ortega, who seemed shocked BNSF wouldn’t contribute $75,000 and even more appalled from a $25,000 offer, BNSF settled on $40,000.
Although BNSF verbally agreed to pay roughly 22 percent of the costs, Ortega seemed pleased a deal was made.
Upgrades are also slated to begin in October on the crossing on North Avenue B.
The upgrades will help with drainage problems around the tracks, and will make the crossing smoother for drivers.
Something McCarty was glad to hear about Thursday.