The State Department of Transportation is taking drastic measures to improve a highway in southeastern New Mexico. It’s trying to condemn private property that lines it, in order to make improvements.
Dozens of business owners along Highway 285 in Artesia have willingly signed over a piece of their property to the DOT as part of a construction project to improve the road.
“I was actually excited because our little parking lot here is pretty bad,” said business owner Jerret Turner.
They believe the construction needs to be done to make things safer. The highway has been the site of a number of crashes and gets a lot of traffic because of the oil and gas boom.
The state has offered some landowners between $250 and $650 for their land, but some of them either don’t want to sell for that price or the state can’t locate them.
“Sometimes when we send out that notice and we’ve gotten the appraisal, then the property owners have to sign and give us that permission. Sometimes, we’re not able to get that permission, and that can be for a variety of reasons,” said Marisa Maez, NMDOT Director of Communications.
The state has filed a complaint of condemnation for certain properties. They are asking a court to set a price for the land using its appraisal. Also, if they can’t find owners of the property, the state can take it to the court and condemn the land.
“What we have is ability from the state law that tells us that we can go ahead and continue with any project, so that we don’t back anything up waiting for property approval from the owners,” said Maez.
Transportation officials say they don’t like taking it to this point. They prefer to negotiate with owners without going to court.
The owners who are objecting to the price of the land can appeal to the judge to order a higher price.
The DOT says the improvement project will cost about $5 million and last around six months to a year, starting in the fall.