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CBS7 INVESTIGATES: Operation Arrive Alive Part 2

(KOSA)
Published: Oct. 18, 2019 at 6:44 PM CDT
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New Mexico State Police is ramping up patrols on Highway 128 and keeping oilfield traffic in check, but New Mexico Department of Transportation is also stepping up to help make the roadway safer.

NMDOT officials gathered in Jal Thursday to listen to community concerns about oilfield highways like 128.

They assured everyone that safety in the booming Permian Basin region is their top priority, and it's all starting with the state's newest safety corridor.

Big, bright yellow signs can now be found within miles of each other on Highway 128 from mile marker 5 to mile marker 50.

The additions make the newest 'New Mexico Safety Corridor' official.

"The main thing to stop these people from driving aggressively is to hit their pocket book, and doubling the fines - that'll do that," New Mexico Police Captain Lance Bateman said.

Plus, the Roswell-based captain said, the designation does much more than double fines for moving violations.

"It brings awareness to the area - to the motoring public, adds signage, helps to get future funding," Bateman added.

The New Mexico DOT explained the process to get a roadway approved as a safety corridor usually takes time, but they got Highway 128's designation done within a few short months because of pressing safety issues.

"85 percent of the vehicles in this part of the state are heavy trucks, over the road trucks, oil field trucks - not pickups, not cars," NMDOT Southwest District Engineer Timothy Parker said. "Stress on the drivers, the weight of the trucks creates stress on the pavement. And so, there are a lot of issues that happen when you have traffic that is equivalent of a metropolitan area."

Even though Texas doesn't create safety corridors, the West Texas part of the booming Permian Basin region is sharing the same issues and law enforcement and transportation agencies are collaborating.

"The more minds you bring to the table, the better off you are. You see things from a different perspective when you talk to other agencies," TxDOT Public Information Officer Gene Powell said. "Whether we're talking New Mexico DOT or whether it's law enforcement talking to each other."

Plus, both departments of transportation are busy investing in the region.

Over the next 3 to 5 years, NMDOT expects road funding in Southwest New Mexico to go from 150 million a year to about 550 million a year.

TxDOT also recently received additional state funding and is expecting more.

"When I started at TxDOT nine years ago, we were doing 40 to 50 million a year in construction. Now we are doing closer to 400 mile a year," Powell explained. "As I sit here today, we have more than 450 million dollars worth of construction projects under contract, and in the next 11 months we'll let about another 400 million."

Ultimately, the message from both transportation officials are the same: these small-town roads may need some work, but crashes are preventable and much of it is up to Permian Basin drivers.

"Unfortunately a lot of times it comes back to if people would slow down, not drink and drive, put their cell phones away, not drive distracted - all those kinds of things would greatly reduce the crash rate," Powell said.

"It's real simple. Slow down, phone down and arrive alive," Parker said.

Although, no one wants to urge drivers to realize the risk they are taking behind the wheel in the region more than a mother who lost her son to a fiery oilfield traffic accident on 128 back in July.

"Think about the responsibility you have behind the wheel - that not only your life can be changed, but you might be changing somebody else's life forever," Alonso Hernandez's mother Magaly Nieto said.

New Mexico DOT is also asking for more state funding for Highway 128, they currently need 140 million more for the necessary construction projects to be fully funded.