LOVINGTON — At the urging of Lea County Commissioner Rebecca Long, the school zone at College Lane Elementary may soon become safer and less congested.
“It’s so dangerous,” Long said at last week’s county commission meeting.
She described the scene along College Lane in front of the school at the beginning and end of each school day.
“People can barely get through on the roadway because they’re lined up on both sides of the street constantly in the mornings to drop them (students) off and in the afternoons to pick them up,” Long said.
Fellow commissioner Pat Sims, who had driven through the area the day before, agreed.
“Yesterday, it was worse,” Sims said. “Both sides (of the street) were full and the westbound traffic was stopped.”
In a previous meeting, after Assistant County Manager Corey Needham reviewed completed and planned roadwork throughout the county, including Kansas and Alabama streets north of Hobbs, Long had asked county staff also evaluate College Lane.
Last week, Needham presented details of plans to make College Lane safer, from the Lovington Highway to North Grimes Street, but noted complications.
Average daily traffic on the street ranged from 2,700 to 4,000 vehicles, depending on where it’s measured, Needham said, with the larger number actually closer to Grimes Street in the area of the school nearer the east end of the road.
“The roadway is kind of unique,” Needham said. “The roadway serves several pretty critical things. It’s a connector between a lot of county roadways.” He noted the presence of a church, the Humphrey House, the Lea County Communication Authority, Fire Station No. 4 and the elementary school, all on College Lane.
Needham explained 1.4 miles of the road are adjacent to City of Hobbs land, while unincorporated Lea County land abuts the roadway for 1.2 miles, meaning effective improvements would have to involve both governmental entities.
Hobbs city engineer Todd Randall, appearing with Needham before the commission, pointed out improvements to the road are under consideration, but two issues provide complications — funding and timing.
He said the timing issue is most important because it involves the school.
Needham explained the road was designed and built decades ago at 26 feet wide, but probably has eroded to 24 feet for most of its length.
A plan to improve the roadway in much the same way Alabama and Kansas streets were set for widening and overlay would bring College Lane to 32 feet wide at a total cost approaching $2 million, with design costs estimated at $300,000 and construction between $1.2-1.6 million, Needham said.
Sims and Long both pointed out some of their constituents have expressed concern that an improved road will encourage more speeding, but Commissioner Jonathan Sena suggested law enforcement and a few tickets might help reduce that problem.
Needham also noted there are several methods of encouraging speed reduction, such as using chip seal and certain striping hacks that tend to result in drivers voluntarily slowing down.
While several commissioners encouraged making the road even wider in certain areas, no decisions were confirmed on the suggestion.
Lea County Manager Mike Gallagher, having received nods from the commissioners, committed to bringing the issue back at a later meeting for decision-making, including the county picking up the tab while the city provides leadership on the street improvements.
“What we will do is county staff will visit with the City of Hobbs to come up with an agreement,” Gallagher said. “I think the county has the ability to pay that $2 million in costs. The county would provide the funding and the City of Hobbs could take the lead on the project. It’s a city/county road, but I think we have the funding to do that. I think it’s the most expedient way of doing it so we don’t get bogged down on who’s paying the cost.”
Meanwhile, Long noted the Hobbs Municipal School system has plans to establish a better drop-off point to get the cars away from the street at the beginning and end of the school day.