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New Mexico aviation infrastructure graded C-

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By Harold Morgan

New Mexico has a seaplane base. It’s one of 61 airports open to the public, according to the 2005 Report Card on New Mexico Infrastructure from the New Mexico Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The report said our aviation infrastructure, graded C-, is ahead of the national average of D+.
This is as it should be; with the least amount of surface water of any state, we have a seaplane base.
Wikipedia places the base on Conchas Lake, near Tucumcari, and says it’s owned by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. This figures; the Corps messed up the New Orleans levees, but managed a seaplane base in the desert. The base brings new meaning to puddle jumping.
The locator balloon on Google Maps places the base in the middle of the lake. This is a little startling, even though expected.
Quay County, where Tucumcari is county seat, is home to another odd transportation structure, courtesy of the Department of Transportation. It is a “sally port” type gateway on I-40 near the Texas border with pillars on either side of the road and a sign saying, “Welcome to New Mexico,” stretching across the road.
The I-40 site boasts two such structures, one for each direction. My scout reports that the structure confronting people driving east has only one pillar.
A “sally port” is a gateway big enough to allow passage of many horses, or, cars and trucks today.
Quay County is not alone, the Hobbs News-Sun reported June 3. U.S. 62/180 near Hobbs at the Texas border sports a sign across two lanes of highway welcoming people to New Mexico.
South of Las Cruces on I-10, there are two more such signs, one for each direction.
The plan, DOT tells me, was for all three locations to have two signs, one two-pillar and one one-pillar. In what strikes me as a show of rampant good sense, the Hobbs project was modified, the Sun-News said, with the “exiting” message going on the back of the “entering” sign.
The five signs cost $1.13 million. Five are it, DOT says; no more are planned.
New Mexico’s transportation system, if indeed there is such a thing, has a legacy from the Richardson administration beyond there being no money. That’s the Rail Runner commuter railroad between Belen and Santa Fe.
The important part of the legacy is cultural. The Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole, who has visited New Mexico a number of times, observed recently on the Huffington Post, “Rather than relieving congestion, the mantra (of ‘top-down’ transportation planning) it is giving people ‘transportation choices’ in the form of expensive rail transit.
Central planners’ fascination with trains is a wonder to behold.”
Besides gobbling money to cover the operating deficit, Rail Runner has a wireless system in process, which “began February 2009 and is currently undergoing re-engineering due to technical issues,” DOT says. Acceptance is “expected” in August 2011.
Given that DOT has long said that available project funds fall hundreds of millions short of meeting defined “needs,” the timing couldn’t be better for the work of the volunteer civil engineers reviewing our infrastructure.
Their tasks are part of a national infrastructure review for the next report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The report is due next year.
The review will cover aviation (maybe even that seaplane base), bridges, drinking water, flood control, rail, roads, school buildings, solid waste, transit and wastewater.
The seaplane “airport,” the road signs and the wireless system are all examples of the results of no one asking questions.

Harold Morgan
© New Mexico
News Services 2011