New Mexico Unmarked Roads Get Lowered Speed Limit
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Come New Year’s Day, drivers in New Mexico will have to ease off the gas pedal or risk a ticket when traveling country roads with no posted speed limit.
A law taking effect Friday reduces the speed limit on unmarked roads across the rural state from 75 mph to 55 mph.
Backers of the legislation said the default speed limit of 75 mph posed a safety hazard on many roads that weren’t engineered for speed.
Those roads can be narrow, unpaved and lined with mailboxes, said Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan.
“We’ve got people going past houses at 75 on these rural county roads,” said Roch, who lives near the Texas state line in an area with fewer than four residents per square mile. “The sheriffs said there was nothing we can do about it.”
In eastern New Mexico, Curry County alone has over 1,500 miles of roads with no posted speed limit. The statewide tally is unclear.
Counties have the authority to post an appropriate speed limit on roads they own and maintain but first must perform a traffic study that can cost several thousand dollars per mile, according to the New Mexico Association of Counties. That’s money local officials would rather devote to road maintenance, Roch said.
“Normally it takes tragedy for something like this to gain some support,” he said. “We just had a number of concerned citizens and county commissioners come forward.”
Eleven legislators voted against the measure, including Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.
Egolf, an attorney, said it is the duty of county governments to evaluate exactly where people need to slow down and let drivers assume responsibility elsewhere. He believes the costs for speed limit studies are not prohibitively high.
“We’ve got long roads, and especially folks working in the farming and ranching business have long distances to cover,” Egolf said. “It just seems to me that folks should be left alone to do the things that are appropriate.”
Other new laws going into effect Friday will affect the calculation of retirement benefits for volunteer firefighters and change road permit rules for some heavy trucks.
Morgan Lee, Associated Press