PLACITAS, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s a dangerous road leading to homes and a popular trailhead that KRQE News 13 first reported on Special Assignment. Now residents say that road is in even worse shape, and people who live along the roadway aren’t getting any help.
With every season, Tunnel Springs Road in Placitas is getting progressively worse to travel on.
“It gets really bad beyond that point too, so I think it starts getting to be a public safety issue,” explained Joe Fusco, who lives off Tunnel Springs.
Fusco showed KRQE News 13 the problem in 2016, and since then he says neither Sandoval County nor the U.S. Forest Service has helped.
“It’s a double-edged sword here, they claim it one way but then they put it off on everybody else the other way,” Fusco said.
Tunnel Springs Road leads to a public trailhead in the Cibola National Forest complete with U.S. Forest Service signs and logos along the road and at the trailhead.
The Forest Service told KRQE News 13 in 2016 that it used to maintain the road intermittently in the past, but that’s since stopped. It claims the road actually belongs to 31 adjacent landowners whose property lines extend to the middle of the road.
“But it’s being used as a public road to a trailhead moreso than anything else,” Fusco explained. “There are more vehicles coming to a trailhead to hike. I don’t think it’s the responsibility of those property owners to maintain an active trailhead.”
The U.S. Forest Service told KRQE News 13 more than a year ago that it was working to verify legal agreements to determine who’s responsible for maintaining the road.
KRQE News 13 called the Forest Service again on Tuesday to see if they found that answer, but a spokesperson didn’t pick up.
According to the Bureau of Land Management GIS data, a map that Sandoval County has on file shows much of the road does fall under private land ownership.
However, Tunnel Springs runs all the way from a state road through both private and U.S. Forest Service land.
Fusco said nearby residents have pitched in gravel and dirt to help patch up the road.
“Some of the really deep ruts that are impassable in the winter or in really bad monsoon times, we’ve tried to just fill in with fill dirt,” he said. “But again, that’s a band-aid on a bigger problem.”
One thing is apparent, it’ll likely be expensive for whoever decides to take care of this mess.
Fusco claims it’s a Catch-22. If residents pitch in the expenses to fix the road, that could encourage even more traffic to and from the public to the trailhead, and even more wear and tear.
The Sandoval County Public Works Department told KRQE News 13 that residents can request road maintenance help from the county, but it’s a lengthy process that every adjacent resident would need to sign off on.
It could take more than a year and commissioners would have to vote on whether to take responsibility. There are no guarantees.
“You know this is free will, we choose to live here. Now we choose to buy more tires for our cars because we need them,” said Fusco.
If you look past the treacherous track, it’s easy to see why people choose to live there. Fusco just worries the mountain may soon take back the path leading to his home.
“I think nature does that right?” Fusco said. “You leave this thing unattended, eventually it will take it back.”
Even if Sandoval County did eventually take over maintenance, the county said landowners would have to pay for an inspection and pay for the cost to get the road back up to standards.