Homeowners likely on the hook for repairing hazardous forest road

Despite U.S. Forest Service signs, agency claims it does not own road

tunnel-springs-road

PLACITAS, N.M. (KRQE) – Neighbors in Placitas are concerned about the safety of a road leading to homes and a popular public trail. They claim the lack of maintenance makes the commute downright dangerous, so who’s supposed to fix it?

The landscape that goes along with living in Placitas is a big draw for people like Joe Fusco.

“It’s well-traveled, there’s a lot of people here on the weekend,” Fusco explained, pointing to a Cibola National Forest trailhead at the top of the road.

However, there’s one problem. For Fusco and his neighbors, getting home is getting tougher and tougher.

“It’s dicey, it’s dicey at times,” Fusco said, referring to the drive to and from his home. “What’s the value of a home up this road if you can’t get to it?”

Fusco said Tunnel Springs Road, the route drivers take past homes all the way up to a popular Forest Service trailhead, has deteriorated over the years.

“We’re living with something worse and worse every monsoon season, every winter,” Fusco told KRQE News 13.

Wet weather, plus wear and tear from the public make the drive more difficult for nearby residents.

“It’s a safety concern for residents,” said Fusco.

Neighbors are also concerned about fire and rescue potentially not getting quick enough access to the trailhead or homes nearby.

The Sandoval County Fire Department told KRQE News 13 the road does present a challenge, however the department does have contingency plans in place so crews can get to patients quickly.

During wet weather especially, Fusco said the road becomes treacherous.

“You see a lot of abandoned vehicles past the cattle guard,” he recalled. “It wasn’t as bad as it is right now up here two and a half years ago.”

Neighbors told KRQE News 13 it’s the public trailhead at the top of Tunnel Springs Road that drives the most traffic in the area, which begs the question, who should be taking care of the road?

“If the damage is being done by more cars than live up here, then I think the responsibility is to take care of the general public as well,” said Fusco.

Last week, Sandoval County road crews were out pouring new gravel and grading a portion of Tunnel Springs near 165. However, crews stopped the work less than a quarter mile up the road at Quail Meadow.

A Sandoval County spokesperson told KRQE News 13 that’s where the county’s ownership of the road ends.

“Is anyone gonna fix this road?” Fusco said he’s been asking that question of the U.S. Forest Service, since Tunnel Springs is also labeled ‘Forest Road 231.’ Fusco also points out U.S. Forest Service logos on both the road signs and the trailhead.

“We have the access they’re saying, but we don’t have the responsibility,” Fusco recalled his correspondence with Forest Service officials via email.

He said the Forest Service used to maintain the road all the way up to the trailhead. The past two years, Fusco said, the road appears to have gone forgotten.

After contacting KRQE News 13, Fusco said the Forest Service finally told him it was working with Sandoval County to confirm who owns the road.

“I had never heard that in a year until I contacted you,” a frustrated Fusco told KRQE News 13. “It’d be nice to get just a straight-up answer.”

KRQE News 13’s investigation worked to get that answer.

The U.S. Forest Service declined an interview, but a spokesperson said the Forest Service does not own the road, even though the agency’s signs are all over it.

In an email to KRQE News 13, the U.S. Forest Service spokesperson also said they’re looking up old agreements to see if the Forest Service has any responsibility for maintaining the road.

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Tunnel Springs Road

“It’s just gonna keep getting worse,” said Fusco.

It could also get expensive for the people who live there. The Forest Service also claims Sandoval County records show it’s the neighbors who own the road, since property lines of 31 private land owners actually extend to the center of the road.

“Neighbors have had to do all the work themselves,” Fusco said.

He and others question why neighbors should have to foot the bill and pave the way for the public to access a National Forest.

“I think that’s just private owners throwing away money because it’s just gonna get bad again, because it’s the general public that’s coming up and tearing it up again,” Fusco added.

Neighbors like Fusco hope they can find a solution with the U.S. Forest Service before things get worse.

“At one point is it gonna be unpassable?” Fusco asked.

Neighbors who spoke to KRQE News 13 said they were never under the impression the road was their responsibility when they moved in or built their homes near Tunnel Springs.

A spokeswoman with the U.S. Forest Service sent KRQE News 13 the following statement:

Thank you for contacting us regarding the Tunnel Springs Road.  At this time, we are working to clarify ownership.  Forest Service ownership begins near the trailhead, and the Forest Service uses the road to maintain the trailhead.  Until now, no issues have been raised that would prohibit us or the public from driving to the trailhead.  Legal access is not the same as legal ownership.

We do not have the authority or responsibility to maintain a road that we do not own.  According to records at the Sandoval County Assessor’s Office, the road is privately owned by approximately 31 adjacent landowners whose property extends to the center line of the road.

The road has been maintained by the Forest Service intermittently in the past.  We are trying to verify the agreements that were in place at that time and those that remain in place to determine if it is our responsibility to maintain the road.

Certainly, we share the public’s safety concern about the road condition and we are gathering the legal information that we need to determine who is responsible for road maintenance.

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